Agriculture contributes to 35% of the Nepal’s GDP and provides livelihood to nearly 76% of households. Despite this, Nepal imports huge amount of food every year. Due to agriculture’s importance in the economy, various policies that subsidize agro inputs like seeds and fertilizers with a hope that such would make the needed impact in the sector. But the negative growth rate which at present stands at 1.3% compared to 5% in 2012 paints a different picture (Nepal Rastriya Bank).
Recently, national dailies covered the news of Rautahat district and its problems in acquiring subsidized hybrid wheat seeds. The reasons quoted for this was the arbitrary distribution by the District of Agriculture appointed dealers, black market seed sale to Indian farmer by officials, administrative lax of coupon distribution without authorized signatures and delivery failure of slated amount of seeds to the district(nepalnews.com). According to news reports, out of 1800 metric ton only 260 had been delivered with no indication of when the others would reach the 1300 farmers still waiting for the seeds (nepalnews.com ). Some of these allegations have been corroborated by recovery of nearly 8 quintals of subsidized wheat seeds by the Armed Police force at the Border in Tilathi VDC (myrepublica.com).
National Seed Vision of 2013-25 states that nearly 90% of the seed need in Nepal is fulfilled by the informal farmer seed market ( informal seeds are saved seed from previous harvest) which are noted to hamper productivity as seeds replacement is important to ensure good produce (GoN, MoAD).
The government provides subsidy for Cereal crops seeds which are expensive and to supposedly deter people from buying low-cost seeds that would led to production failure. However, when farmers do not receive the seeds in time then they resort to buying low-cost seed or imported seeds if those are available in the market.
As per the Nepal Seed Act, it is mandatory to register imported seeds, both pollinated and hybrid. Furthermore, hybrid seeds need to have a multi-location testing for two years through the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) before they can even enter the country (GoN).
Hybridized seed usage has increased with the lack of seed and with farmer’s expectation of having a good harvest. This has had negative implications because hybrid seeds have to be tested for climate suitability and adaptability before they are used. Huge production losses in the Terai region and recently in Bhaktapur where farmers lost crops amounting to Rs 80 million exemplify the negative implications. Bhaktapur farmers had apparently used hybrid seeds prescribed by the MoAD for Terai and Inner Terai region approved in 2010 (ekantipur.com). Seed replacement for hybrid seeds is 100% and with shortage of seeds, farmers have been found to be using them frequently leading to production failure. The reason for this is also the lack of hybrid seeds production in the country.
Despite the National Seed Policy (1999) provision for the involvement of the private parties in the seed industry, only NARC has authorization to carry out research in seed variety development and supplying breeder seed while private companies and other NGO’s involved can multiply and build foundation seed. NARC has been able to release 140 varieties of rice, maize and wheat since 1960 with only 60% rice seed and 1/3 maize and wheat (International Food Policy Research Institute 2012).
The seed vision of MoAD ( 2013-25) has proposed the expansion of its research facilities to produce better suited hybrid seeds and increasing seed production through public private partnership (PPP) with existing 4 seed production companies in Nepal. These steps would definitely help in fulfilling the need of seed in the Nepali market but it would surely not be enough ( GoN,Moad).
The seed industry lacks investment and since only few private companies are involved in the business the government should offer incentives and ease the registration process to attract more private investment. It also has to ensure implementation of its rules regarding truthful labeling so that farmers are not cheated with unproductive seeds. Instead of offering subsidies or coupons for distribution it should cancel it and instead focus on increasing investment in the market to meet seed production demands, increase competition and let the market supply and demand set the price. The government also needs to strengthen the marketing network in the country so that seeds are readily available everywhere and ensure that the distributors are knowledgeable about seeds to prevent production failure owing to lack of information.