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Double whammy

Publication Date : 08-08-2012

 

Nepal's dependence on the monsoon rains in determining its agricultural output is a perennial problem. In 2011-12, early monsoons and consistent rain throughout the season resulted in an all-time high food grain production of over 9.45 million tonnes. But this year’s picture looks glum. A severe drought combined with an acute shortage of chemical fertiliser has meant that Nepal’s production of food grains is estimated to be down at least 10 percent this year. The findings come in the wake of a 2012 global rice forecast published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. The double blow suffered by Nepali farmers is a result of the government’s negligence in agriculture and the reliance on the monsoon rains.

The lack of rainfall cannot be blamed on anyone, but the lack of foresight in guaranteeing a good supply of fertiliser by the government is a grave failure. This is not the first time such a double blow has been dealt to Nepali farmers, whose output makes up 36 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, 66 per cent of the entire country relies on agriculture to meet its basic needs. The last couple of years of bumper food harvests were the result of sheer luck that rained from the skies. The government’s over-optimistic view that this year would yield similar results was, apparently, based on little more than hope that the luck wouldn’t wear thin. After all, where the state could have been proactive in making the best out of the rains that did come by providing adequate amounts of fertilisers, it did nothing. Seemingly, however, Nepal is not the only country to suffer from a dependency on the monsoon rains and a negligent state.

Over the border in India, the situation is similar. A drought has been declared, but all too late. The India Meteorological Department, negligent of the fact that in the month of June large swathes of the country had received hardly any rain and the nationwide rainfall deficit soared to 29 per cent, claimed there was a chance that the monsoon could recover and turn into a “below normal” one, which wouldn’t have been so devastating. Unfortunately for us here in Nepal, we went along with our neighbour’s forecast for the region. The reality turned out to be quite the opposite. Not just India and Nepal, but the entire Asian continent, from Bangladesh to Taiwan, has suffered from a drought, meaning that the global rice trade will likely decline by 1 million tonnes as a result of reduced import demand from Asian countries.

First and foremost, the dependency on the monsoon rains for farming is the problem. This is particularly so given the erratic climate seen over the world and climate change, decreasing any consistency in weather patterns. But as a responsible state, other key determinants of agricultural output — fertiliser, manpower, irrigation — must be given priority too. That way, a colossal disaster as has been seen this year, can be minimised.

 

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