Mar 4, 2014-
As more women are left to undertake the labour-intensive farming sector, the country is in dire needs to provide lighter, efficient, economical and user-friendly equipment to the female population. According to agriculture experts, women in the country have a sizeable share in the sector.
Recent government data show more than two-thirds of the total 26.49 million population in the country as farmers, with the farming sector contributing around 34.4 percent to the Gross Development Product (GDP). Having the male counterparts migrate oversees for jobs and due to the lack of access to proper agricultural machinery ranging from tillage, ploughing, plantation, harvesting, processing and storage to women farmers, labour costs have soured, subsequently decreasing production.
Compared to male counterparts, the females have equally contributed to the sector in the country. But mass migration among the young population has added to the burden of the female population over the years.
“Poor access to mechanical tools and technologies used for the agriculture sector, however, has made life even more difficult for women farmers,” said Shreemat Shrestha, chief at the agriculture engineering division, under the Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC). The council under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives works for research, development and promotion of agricultural tools and technologies across the country. “The increasing work burden on women is further aggravated by unpredictable weather and rainfall phenomenon,” he added.
A majority of farmers are still dependent on more traditional and manual forms of agricultural tools that are labour-intensive, time-consuming, heavy and inefficient. The use of iron and wooden ploughs, disc harrow, spade, hoe and sickle are still common among the farmers.
“Majority of farmers across the country rely on subsistence farming and have limited financial capacity to own and operate available machines,” Shrestha said.
A report made public by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in January this year said that the farm machines have gradually revolutionised agriculture and reduced drudgery for the millions of farming families across the globe.
The report highlights cases from Bangladesh where farmers went from using human muscle and ox power in the early 1970s to being one of the most mechanised agricultural economies in South Asia, with 300,000 low-power two-wheel tractors and a million diesel powered irrigation pumps.
Prem Dangal, secretary general of the All Nepal Peasants’ Federation, said the government has failed to encourage the use of machinery in agriculture through relevant programmes and fund allocation.
According to reports, the only company manufacturing agricultural machinery was closed by the government. This led to the import of foreign-made equipment that are expensive, leaving poor farmers no option but to continue their traditional methods. Lack of proper subsidies, tax provisions and orientations on the availability and use of these tools have discouraged the female farmers.
“We need to come up with special programmes focusing on the need of female farmers and make farm implements available to them,” Dangal said. “Until we acknowledge the vital role of women in agriculture and provide them with opportunities in the form of efficient and economical machinery to address the problem, the improvement of overall agricultural sector remains slim,” he added.
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to promote research, development and promotion of mechanising the sector to address the growing concerns arising with the drop in production and increase in fallow land over the years. The last national census in 2011 showed a slight progress in terms of being mechanised and showed that 22.04 percent farm households used tractor and 20.96 percent reported using thresher in farms. Tractors and power threshers are among the common machines used by local farmers for tillage.
Similarly, around 14.30 percent holders reported using pumping sets/motors. However, power tillers have not been popular among farmers as only 1.97 percent holders reported using them in their farming operations. However, 28.01 percent are still using the most basic farming technology--the iron plow. Iron plow users were 26.1 percent of farm households in the last census.
National policies and programmes over the years have, reportedly, remained silent on agriculture mechanisation. However, the Agriculture Mechanisation Policy and Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS), both awaiting final approval, have introduced new policies and identified the need for the mechanisation of the farming sector with more focus on the female farmers. Similarly, the ADS includes the establishment of agriculture mechanisation centres in Tarai and the Hills. “Due to diverse topography, the needs and usage of agriculture machines differ. Thus, we need to focus on providing tools that are more adaptable,” Shrestha said.
The government has allocated Rs 100 million for subsidies to encourage farmers to use farming machines like power tillers, harvesters, planters and seed drills in the Hills and the Tarai regions in the current fiscal year.
Published: 04-03-2014 08:50