My family has a piece of arable land on the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley where we live. One might think that having land should make one happy and proud in terms of property value. However, it can be a source of tension for farmers. My family lives in a close-knit community where everybody knows everyone. It has been a long tradition for everybody in the community not to keep their land barren. It is not an issue whether one grows crops and makes a profit or a loss, but not cultivating the farm could be an issue.
Many of my neighbours in the community have sold their land and invested the money in non-productive areas like building concrete houses and buying brand new motorcycles. Some have bought jewellery for their wives. They dreamed of big things when they had money, and their lifestyles changed. However, the heady times did not last long, not even a year.
Having no money in their hands, the intensity of their tension rises annually when the cost of land surges, providing a painful reminder that they are no more owners of land. They see tall concrete buildings emerging on the plots they have sold, even bigger than the ones they built with the money they got. They vent their anger on the rusted motorcycle (once brand new) which struggles to roll forward making odd noises. I am not generalising or exaggerating things; this is the story of many in my community. Those who considered land a burden finding it difficult to farm it faced an even greater plight after they got rid of it.
Owning a piece of land, and having seen the farmer neighbours struggle regularly during the planting and harvest, I feel that cultivators in Nepal lead a painful life. Clouds of worries hover around them during the sowing and harvesting seasons. The first anxiety for farmers, I see nowadays, is lack of human resources or workers. Finding farm hands is almost impossible these days. There were times when workers were easily available since many rural people used to migrate to semi-urban areas to engage in seasonal agricultural work for months. However, many of these productive youths have migrated to the Gulf countries. According to the Ministry of Labour and Transportation Management, more than 300,000 Nepalis went to foreign lands
in 2010-11 alone. Therefore, farmers in Nepal are in a do-or-die situation. In today’s Nepal, a lot of the farm work has to be done by old people and women since only a few youths are left in the villages.
On the other hand, the agriculture sector is not their cup of tea for many of the young generation these days even if they may be fully unemployed. Being educated, it has become a matter of shame for many youths to set foot on their fields. This is a newly growing trend as an impact of the education system in Nepal which is producing hordes of jobless educated people who enjoy making empty boasts.
Every now and then, we see large audiences at various political party programmes at Tundikhel and other places wasting their productive time. Youths engage in organising bandas and strikes forcefully shutting the mouths of the ordinary Nepalis instead of getting involved in productive work like agriculture which feeds more than half of the population. More than 66 percent of Nepalis depend on agriculture to fulfil their basic needs, and it accounts for 36 percent of the GDP. I see a contradiction when there is large demand for human resources at one end and a large number of unemployed youths seeking jobs at the other end.
Another problem for farmers in Nepal is a deepening fertiliser crisis. It’s a matter of shame to declare
Nepal an agricultural country where there’s not even a single chemical fertiliser factory to meet the national demand. Every year, farmers have to simply wait and suffer from the acute shortage of chemical fertiliser. Increasing politicisation and the government’s lack of vision have pushed the farmers into hopelessness and more uncertainty.
Till a decade ago, almost all the farmers in my neighbourhood had compost pits near their houses. Both compost and chemical fertilisers were used on the farms in the past to increase productivity. However, nobody pays any attention to this traditional form of organic fertiliser, and now it’s become rare to see a farmer’s house with a compost pit. Hence, demand for chemical fertiliser has increased.
In addition to the problem of shortages of workers and chemical fertilisers, many farmers in Nepal have to depend on the monsoon for planting because of the absence of a proper irrigation system. The poor and late monsoon this year prevented farmers from planting paddy on time. Agriculturists have warned that food production will certainly go down this year and hence prices may rise. In 2009, according to the World Food Programme, 43 districts faced a food deficit and 23 districts were chronically food insecure. In such a grave situation, when do we change to a food sufficient country from a food deficit country? When do we become a food exporting country from a food importing country? The agricultural sector in Nepal can no more be neglected. It’s high time that we gave it higher priority.
Deshar holds an MA from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Hague, The Netherlands
Posted on: 2012-11-14 09:59