Better roads in the Karnali are essential. The only road access to the Kalikot, Jumla and Mugu districts is through steep slopes, rough mountains and river banks. The Karnali highway represents the areas covered by the 232 KM Surkhet-Jumla road, which is the main flow path of goods from Jumla, Kalikot, parts of Achham, Dailekh and Surkhet and to some extent, from Mugu. The main market centres along this road corridor are Latikoili, Badichaur, Lower Dungeshwar, Ramaghat, Tunibagar, Rakam, Myanma, Nagma and Jumla bazaar.
Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) - Nepal recently published a report titled “A Value Chain Analysis of Apple from Jumla”, and the intervention strategy indicates that more than 85 per cent of the Karnali highway is still unsafe.
Although a small part of the Karnali road is already being blacktopped, the highway still functions as a seasonal road and remains closed during the monsoon season which is the harvesting season for organic apples. Nearly all apples exported from the district have to be flown out, raising prices and impeding high apple sales. Only around 10 per cent of apples produced are sold, while the rest is used for household purposes or remains unpicked. Because of this oversupply, farmers have not invested in orchard management techniques such as pruning, manure use, pest control, etc., which would increase output substantially.
Despite considerable past investments, the burden of navigating the Karnali highway is still high, and many parts of the road remain rough and impassable for most of the year. Many rural Karnalians have poor access to markets, healthcare facilities and schools and deal with high transport costs. Inadequate roads make it hard for farmers to transport and market their crops. There is a pressing need to provide a functional road system in the area, made more urgent by current concerns over food prices and shortages, high energy costs and social and health needs.
The Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MPPW) and the Department of Roads (DOR) should try a new approach to improve road infrastructure and transport services in the Karnali. Decision-makers should consider new ways of solving road sector challenges and act as a forum for the exchange of knowledge sand discussion to solve transportation-related issues. The following measures should be considered:
The MPPW/DOR should encourage the private sector to promote low cost, intermediate vehicles in the region. These vehicles, capable of being assembled locally, along with low-cost motorcycles, make transport more affordable in rural areas such as the Karnali.
The use of high-maintenance muddy surfaces with big ditches should be restricted. Depending on soil conditions and climate, new engineering can be used to improve road conditions. This approach should be coupled with spot improvements or upgrading to more durable surfaces for problem areas that have weak soils, steep gradients, and where dust is a problem. Proven surfaces include hand-packed stone and small boulders that are readily available at the local level. These can be utilised by small contracting enterprises that use local labour.
Those developing new roads must consider maintenance costs. Stakeholders such as road users and local communities should be involved in developing sustainable projects. In many areas, agriculture and road industries can work together to develop small tractor-owning enterprises that can provide a range of services to farmers as well as undertake road maintenance.
Provision of universal rural access requires the involvement of communities. Basic access can be provided at a fraction of the cost of conventional road infrastructure if technical support and materials can be provided by benefactors to complement the efforts of community groups. Self-help initiatives should be promoted to improve road conditions.
The Karnali region of Nepal is rich in non-timber forest products and organic agriculture production, but these products’ potential for production and trade is not being met due to weak infrastructure. If the Karnali highway is improved and other infrastructure is implemented, the number of transactions will increase, and so will value added opportunities. It is high time for investment in road construction to be encouraged so rural people can enjoy a better quality of life and higher status in society.
Bhandari has been working for more than a decade in the Karnali region
Posted on: 2011-07-15 08:01