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Kamala Sarup: Who Will Hear The Farmer's Voice?

Who Will Hear The Farmer's Voice?

By Kamala Sarup

Narayan Sunar, a poor 50-year-old farmer said "I have no money. Doctor says I have to have nutritious food to fight T. B. I cannot afford it," says Narayan who lives in Chitawan. Narayan is one of 200 million people in Nepal who live in desperate poverty with an income of less than a dollar a day and no access to food, basic health or drinking water.

The lives of farmers like Narayan living in remote villages in Chitawan typify the extent of poverty. He has seven children.

He does not have money. Earlier, he worked in the farms but now he is too ill to do anything. Malnutrition remains a silent emergency in Nepal. Narayan Sunar said " Believe me, we have the capacity to produce food for ourselves. But then everything is loaded against us. While a small slice of Nepal is rich enough to eat out, but countryside are still struggling for survival".

Small farmers voice is still very unorganized. Small farmers are poor, and the poor have no voice in Nepal. There are no employment opportunities for these farmers. Being deprived of resources the traditional farmer is more knowledgeable about crop rotation and farming methods. In fact in Nepal the indiscriminate use of fertilisers was the cause for the degradation of the soil fertility. The other problem that has been existing for decades is the irrigation canal systems. There is practically zero maintenance and adaptation of new technology to improve water distribution canal systems. On the other hand a few hand pumps are the only source of water.

" All farmers in the country must be provided with free insurance coverage to a certain specified amount. Farmers losses due to cyclones, droughts, etc. must be compensated for. If India moves forward with the export subsidies, Nepali farmers will have a tough time surviving since the prices of Indian agro-products in the Nepali markets are already lower. It is high time that Nepal resolve subsidy issue. There is a need for subsidy not just in irrigation facilities, but also in fertilizers and exports. The agriculture sector must be protected. What rural Nepal and the farmers need are "disruptive innovations" in the way things are done" .Economist Dr. Naraha said while speaking with The Telegraph in Washington DC.

Poverty in Nepal largely means rural poverty because in rural areas most vulnerable of the rural farmers are there. The causes of our poverty are clear. There is not enough land to absorb the available village labor force in agriculture. Starvation deaths are often reported in rural areas. Most of the power installments are located around the capital. Even the contribution of agriculture to Nepal's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) presently stands at around 40 per cent and absorbs 80 per cent of the total work force. Now we have question Are poverty reduction benefits enough to justify the substantial financial and human resources investment required to establish farmers' markets?

The markets are a useful outlet for small vegetable farmers but the markets cannot be expected to contribute to price stability. Lack of easy access to rural financing, poor delivery system of modern agricultural technologies, poor quality of agriculture inputs mainly fertilizer and lack of effective institution to facilitate agricultural marketing are some of the major causes for the low competitiveness of Nepali farmers. On the other hand inadequate rural roads and insufficient electrification as other bottlenecks that has resulted in the increase in the cost of production of the Nepali agro-products. Governments should establish guidelines for credit allocation. More rural financial institutions are needed to be mobilized. Special funds should be designated for loans, sometimes at subsidized interest rates. A country which largely depends on agriculture, it has failed to cope with the rise in demand for food grains.

"As I watched scheme for the poor and rural farmers in Nepal with the politically correct phrases like food-for-all, drinking water for all, education for all, healthcare for all, electricity for all. I don't think it will make much of a difference except in some more already-filled pockets. I guess the budget left little for 'real farmer's solutions and was indeed used to appease political parties many of whom have stuck to idealogies which have long rusted and corroded. I guess there is always hope that this year there will be something different for farmers. There is always Budget to look forward to. Maybe the budget had more politics involved than economics. There are election coming up and this may be the framework for that. They are trying to win these with the same slogan/motto that won them the government seats. The government is very unstable, maybe the entire term even may not be possible without compromises on policies." Dr. Badri Khadka also said while speaking with The Telegraph in Arlington.

He further added " When government will increase farmers' participation in market management and considering longer opening hours improving bus services genuinely poor farmers are able to sell their goods. What we need are policies that make agriculture an attractive proposition, a viable proposition for them, so farmers can survive and produce food for themselves and for the country. Nepal as agriculture is lifeblood and the heart of its economy . Prosperous farmers mean more employment. What we lack is proper targeting of pro-poor schemes, cutting down bureaucratic hurdles and a clear roadmap for reforms".

A country which largely depends on agriculture, it has failed to cope with the rise in demand for food grains. The provision of cheap and reliable efficient transportation, adequate power, water management and sanitation, to the entirety of the land-area of a nation, is the absolute precondition for successful economic growth of the agriculture sector as a whole. However, The Maoist-Government conflict, political instability, contradiction in the policies formulated by the different governments, which only disturbs the smooth flow of agriculture activities.

Rabindra Roy, from Farmer's voice said " The difficulties of agricultural trade are familiar to us all. I guess we have to wait for next set announcements of administrative reforms, as the PM was talking about giving the money directly to the local bodies. Even transparency and accountablity, have been the most difficult to achieve in governance in Nepal. In urban areas the participation is difficult and dominated by politial, administrative authorities. Instead of going top-down we started the project business plan with a clean piece of paper where the key was tight financial control "The key to growth is investment," he said. "Public and private, domestic and foreign. Let's hope the Nepali politicians get the message. "Farmers have to struggle together to get social and economic justice".

Even when farmers in Nepal can produce saleable surpluses, they have to struggle to gain sales in the rich markets of the world because of the power of entrenched farm interests there.

Source: Telegraph


(Kamala Sarup is editor of )

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