As a part of a 20-year agriculture development policy, Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) 2015 to 2035, the Ministry of Agricultural Development intends to revitalize and modernize agriculture in Nepal. The strategic framework of ADS aims to focus on 5 main areas: Food and Nutrition Security, Poverty Reduction, Agricultural Trade Competitiveness, Higher and more equitable Income and Farmers’ Rights ensured and strengthened. One of the main programs of ADS is the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP) which was started in 2015. The goal of this program is to grow agriculture as a sustainable industry for economic growth, to manage domestic food security and to make agriculture a profit-oriented profession for farmers and entrepreneurs.
PMAMP aims to increase productivity and commercialization of major cereals, fisheries, fruits and vegetables over 10 years (Devkota, 2017). The current budget allocated for PMAMP is Rs. 4.77 billion (4.1 million USD) for 2018-19 and this has been increased from 2015 when PMAMP budget was Rs. 130 billion (1.1 million USD).
I wanted to bring to your attention to some of the basic but critical areas of agriculture and rural farming that PMAMP fails to address in this policy that could end up making it ineffective and lead to a federal loss, financial and labor.
I have started by highlighting some new and specific provisions that PMAMP caters to followed by issues in this program and recommendations that could help fill in these gaps. This is an important topic to be discussed as ADS can impact a large number of farmers and families in Nepal and it can be a milestone project for agricultural and economic development of the country if its drawbacks are addressed in a timely manner.
The Ministry of Agricultural Development has identified 30 zones of 500-hectare (1235 acres) land and 2,100 small pocket areas of 10 hectares (24.7 acres) in seven provinces of Nepal called super zones. Basically, these super zones are defined areas across the country that will receive government support to grow specific crops intensivel. This is a part of ADS’ objective “to make the country self-reliant on food grain, promote employment opportunities in agrarian sector, ensure food and nutrition safety and environmentally friendly agricultural practices”. (Rawat, 2017). PMAMP also includes plans for subsidies to rural farmers such as providing Rs 55,000-Rs 900,000 (USD 474-7745) subsidies for solar irrigation system. Beside this, there is also the provision of 50% subsidy on the purchase of agricultural equipment like tractor, thresher, power tiller etc. Here, the necessary condition set up the Ministry to be eligible for subsidy in the purchase of a tractor is to have five hectares (12. 4 acres) cultivable land and for power tillers, farmers need to have 1.5 hectare (3.7 acres) cultivable land (Sharma, 2018). Another new provision that PMAMP introduced is a price control policy called the “Minimum Support Price” which is given by the government to help farmers get better prices for their crop.
There is no doubt over the Ministry or ADS’ intentions to improve Nepali agrarian sector and the living standards of farmers, especially in rural Nepal, and this has been proven by the government’s continuous budget expansion for PMAMP as well as the increasing number of programs within PMAMP over the past 3 years. The major issues with PMAMP’s approach are that the programs still remain far from the reality of daily struggles of rural farmers and they do not address the problems or inadequacies that are dealt by these farmers on a grassroot level.
To start with, the project does not address efficient use and re-use of limited available water for farming and this is a critical issue in drought-prone areas such as the mid-western and far-western regions which include the districts of Rupandehi, Kapilbastu, Manang, Humla, Jajarkot, Doti, Baitadi and Dadeldhura (Bhandari, 2014). There is also no room for agricultural damages caused by weather induced risks such as excessive rain and how these damages will be dealt with. The Nepal Economic Survey of 2016/17 states that excess rain caused damage to paddy, vegetables, maize, fish ponds and fruits of in 127,158 hectares of land area in 2016-17. Similarly, it damaged 60,520 hectares of land in previous fiscal year 2015-16 (Mahara, 2017). Damages caused by weather related disasters such as excessive rainfall or drought negate the impact of other PMAMP programs where heavy resources have been employed.
The above-mentioned introduction of “Minimum Support Price” provided by the government to support farmers so they can get better price for their crop is short-sighted as it is only limited to paddy. This could strongly discourage farmers from growing diverse crop and negatively impact the supply of such supported crop. PMAMP lacks programs that focus on monitoring & maintaining soil quality even though excessive use of chemical fertilizers in rural farming has been a major issue for a number of years. This could be caused by a number of reasons such as lack of awareness about the advantages of alternatives such as bio-pesticides and natural fertilizers compared to chemicals or simple negligence for higher yield. There is a serious need for conservation approaches (forest, soil and water sources) to be incorporated as a vital part of improved farming and PMAMP measures seem to be disconnected with preservation goals. Finally, PMAMP needs to clarify the objective for providing agricultural equipment subsidy as it does not aid farmers that are renting or leasing their farmland, and this makes up a large group of rural farmers.
Here are some recommendations that I would like to present in order to resolve some issues related to PMAMP’s programs discussed above.
• Invest a significant part of the PMAMP budget on improving the irrigation system in farmland, both in terms of quality and extent. Limited availability and unmanaged use of water for irrigation cannot be ignored if our goal is to modernize agricultural methods and boost the sector.
• As a part of this, PMAMP needs to introduce programs that help farmers and families utilize available water efficiently for farming and this should include managing groundwater augmentation and watershed options.
• The Ministry of Agricultural Development needs to extend the Minimum Support Price program to other crops beyond a single crop and encourage the practice of crop rotation to improve soil fertility.
• Programs that research, monitor and advise on soil quality to farmers need to be pushed for. Here, the objective should also be to educate farmers about using soil quality cards to understand their land needs and to be inclined towards using natural fertilizers as a long-term yield advantage.
• Conservation of natural resources (soil, forests, water sources) must be a part of these programs for agricultural output to prosper and PMAMP should utilize local teams of farmers and their staff to monitor and tracks these approaches. There needs to be a push to include farmers with smaller land or yield and women farmers in these committees.
The positive impacts and improvements that ADS is aiming for in its 20-year timeline can be seriously curved if basic problems within programs like PMAMP are not addressed expeditiously. New provisions of utilizing solar energy and additional subsidies could end up as futile approaches if basic problems that are regularly faced by farmers are not addressed as a part of this project. The minimal or lack of investment in improving our current irrigation system and issues related to water could cause PMAMP to run the risk of being ineffective but costing a large chunk of federal budget. I am looking forward to discussing this issue in further details with you or your team and would appreciate any feedback.