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Publication Date : 13-03-2013
According to data from Nepal's Ministry of Agriculture, there are 27 food-deficit districts in the Mid-Western and Far-Western development regions. This year, due to an inadequate monsoon and a shortage of chemical fertilisers, a drop in the production of summer crops, particularly paddy, could increase the severity of food shortages and food imports. During the last seven months of this fiscal year, Nepal imported food grains worth 11.62 billion Nepalese rupees (US$131 million). This amount is almost twice the amount imported during the same period last year. Not only is this a burden on the national treasury but the effects of a food deficiency are felt both by farmers and consumers who have to pay high prices for food. It is unfortunate that so much of the country’s money is spent on importing food when similar amounts invested in agricultural infrastructure, including irrigation and research and development, could vastly improve the productivity of farmers and go a long way towards making Nepal food sufficient.
The 27 food-deficit districts are not able to produce enough for local consumption, and therefore, have to depend on subsidised rice provided by the World Food Programme and the Nepal Food Corporation, a government entity responsible for the storage and distribution of food. Looking into why these districts are not able to produce enough, it is apparent that mass migration and difficult terrain have large roles to play. Furthermore, farmers in these areas are abandoning traditional cereal crops like maize, millet and buckwheat -which they had consumed as staple food for centuries - for paddy. But the topography of these areas is not suitable for paddy. Therefore, the people depend either on rice imported from the plains or subsidised rice distributed by the WFP and the government. The cultural notion that consuming rice signals a higher standard of living is partly to blame, as evidenced by politicians from these districts who try to woo voters with promises of distributing rice.
The demand for rice in these districts comes at the expense of indigenous grains. Part of the solution, therefore, has to include formulating policies that encourage farmers to grow crops more suitable to the topography. It would also help if there was a cultural shift that did not “stigmatise” indigenous crops. There is widespread misinformation that rice is more nutritious than local crops. It is also important to diversify food habits. For example, potato in Nepal is usually eaten as a vegetable, whereas, given its nutritional content, it could easily be consumed as a staple food, as in many countries in the West. The use of readymade food such as instant noodles, which are low in nutritional value, should also be discouraged. For now, the government and the WFP would be doing the food-deficit districts a great favour if they came up with a plan to turn them food sufficient by changing the culture that values imported grains over the indigenous, diversifying crops and food habits, and investing in an integrated agriculture system.