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Daily Archives: October 27, 2013

Food, Hunger and Nepal

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In this year’s Global Hunger Index ( GHI) 2013 published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Nepal has climbed up the ranks from 60th position to 49th position out of 120 countries which means that it has improved from the list of countries having an “alarming” situation of hunger to “serious”. The GHI is calculated based on three weighted average of the proportion of people who are underweight, the proportion of underweight children under five years and mortality rate of children under five. The number may give a positive outlook towards the food security of Nepal however, the production of food and total imports this year tell a different story. The improvement in the food security of the people has also been reflected in the NEKSAP food security report (2013 No 39).

According to the report, food security networks of seventy-two districts in Nepal has improved significantly. Food security situation improvement according to NEKSAP ( 2013, No. 37) report in January has been attributed to the summer crop harvest and the increase in household income owing to diversification of income source, increased wages and sales of high value commodities. Meanwhile NEKSAP (2013, No 39) stated seasonal improvement of food security was owing to the winter harvest crop. However, the report ( No 39) stated that a significant percentage of rural household are still consuming inadequate diet especially in the mountain regions followed by equal proportion in the hills and Tarai. Most of the affected households belong to the Dalit community and  wage laborers in the Far Western Region. The recent decline in food crop production is a subject of concern for food security in Nepal. The decline in food crop production will further harm those in the in the most vulnerable regions like the Far western hills and mountains as well as the Tarai region. Compared to other regions in Nepal, there is a greater disparity in terms of development and poverty in these areas. The vulnerability of these areas is expressed in the Multidimensional Poverty Index (2013) for Nepal which states that the Far Western Regions has a 57.7% incidence of poverty and the Midwestern with 59%. According to Gorkhapatraonline.com(August 29, 2013), rice grain import via the Birjung customs had increased by 53% owing to the inability of domestic supply to meet the demand. Rice imported amounting to 47,258 metric tones worth 1.18 billion is nearly 53% more than the import for the fiscal year 2012/13. Rice import for the fiscal year 2012/13 was 38,758 metric tones.

Majority of the rice mills in Birjung are said to rely on the rice imports from India. Furthermore, Nepal (Ekantipur, June 26, 2013) has imported Rs 11.60 billion worth of rice (420,490tonnes) in the first ten month of the fiscal year due to the paddy decline. This is higher than the projected amount which was slated at 300,000 tonnes by the FAO. Out of the total import 85.30%, i.e. Rs. 11 billion accounted for rice imports and Rs. 9.39 billion for cereal imports. The Ministry of Agriculture has projected ad deficit of rice for this year to be 900,000 tonnes, regardless of the previous year’s surplus. The NEKSAP report (2013. No 37) states decline in the overall summer crop production (maize, millet and paddy).

However when the data is looked as an aggregate average of five year production, no decline in output is found owing to summer harvest surplus in 2011. None-the-less, a point to note is that the crop losses this year were mostly felt in the Siraha District which is the main production belt. Similarly, according to official estimates, winter crop production, i.e wheat and barley for 2013/13 had shown an increase with 2% and 6% respectively, but the national crop production had decreased by 7.6% compared to last year.

Despite this, the official data stated that there was a net positive national cereal balance for human consumption (NEKSAP, 2013, No 39). These figures show the huge possibility of inflation that will likely affect the urban sector and the already struggling rural sector like the Far western region. These figures show a need to improve the agricultural sector of Nepal and to correct its declining productivity. This can only be done if the food sector is improved technologically and through commercialization. Increasing the accessibility of information regarding high value crops, agricultural goods, storage, market demand and others technologies to the farmers should be undertaken.

Similarly, the private sector should be encouraged to move towards commercialization by simplifying policies for the commercialization of farms for the agro entrepreneur’s such as leasing smaller farms to benefit from the economies of scale. Private sector should also be encouraged to invest in the procurement and distribution of chemical fertilizer business instead of providing subsidies to increase the farmer’s accessibility to fertilizers. These effective measures would ensure Nepal’s agro productivity thereby improving the overall food security of the country.

About Astha Joshi

Astha completed her undergraduate degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) and is working as a research assistant at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation.

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