Paddy output to fall sharply; may hurt econ, farm income

- Sangam Prasain, Kathmandu

Nov 3, 2015-

After encountering drought and erratic rain throughout the June-August transplantation period and a subsequent shortage of chemical fertilizers, many farmers have suffered crop failures that is likely to result in a sharp drop in paddy output this year.

The crop damage could cast a shadow on the economy that has been reeling under multiple problems since the deadly April 25 earthquake. The growth of paddy plants panicles with empty rice grains has caused panic among a large number of farmers across the country as the summer harvest season sets in.

Before the crop failure, the Ministry of Agricultural Development had projected that the country could lose paddy crops worth Rs25 billion this year or that output could shrink by 18-20 percent due to the poor monsoon and chemical fertilizer shortage. But now, the figure might go up.

“Severe distress has been caused to the farmers by crop failure in most of the districts that has resulted from untimely paddy transplantation due to untimely rainfall,” said Yubak Dhoj GC, director general of the Department of Agriculture. “Paddy plants suffered due to a delayed monsoon and erratic rainfall besides a shortage of chemical fertilizers,” he said.

In some cases, paddy seeds distributed by NGOs and INGOs in the earthquake affected areas were transplanted without testing and recommendation, he said. “These seeds were not supported by varietals performance or they could not adapt properly to the climate.” GC said that, based on initial estimates, the country could lose 10-12 percent of the paddy output this year.

The crop disaster also reflects the failure of the government’s paddy mission in the first year of its launch. The government had launched its first ever paddy mission in 12 districts this year to boost production and make the country self-reliant in rice amid an alarming increase in imports.

According to district correspondents, most of the crop failure problems have been reported in areas where the government had distributed subsidized seeds under its paddy mission.

In Kanchanpur, farmers have been making repeated visits to the District Agriculture Office demanding compensation as the standing plants grown with subsidized paddy seeds provided by the government did not produce kernels.

They had been given a 75 percent subsidy on different varieties of paddy seeds under the paddy mission. Two seed varieties—Lalka Basmati Dhaan and Swarna Sub 1—have not yielded kernels even though 150 days have passed since the transplantation.

Angry farmers said that they had transplanted their paddy saplings in June-July, but even after three months, the standing plants have shown no signs of bearing kernels. “The farmers who planted other varieties of seeds have started harvesting,” said Bishnu Raj Poudel, a farmer of Suda village in Kanchanpur.

Poudel has planted paddy on 1 bigha of land. “As I have to plant vegetables after harvesting paddy, I am in a fix and don’t know what to do. I will either have to cut the plants or let them grow more.” According to Poudel, a notice printed on the seed packets says that the plants will ripen within 150 days.

But the plants have shown no signs of producing grain even though the time limit has passed, he said. He had brought 35 kg of the new seed varieties.

Kalak Bahadur Singh, an agro technician at the Agriculture Development Office in Kanchanpur, also said that the crop failure was caused by late transplantation.

In Nepalgunj, farmers have started cutting the paddy plants that failed to yield grain to feed their animals. Jakir Behana, a landless farmer in Nepalgunj who had leased five katthas of land to cultivate paddy this year, is worried about his finances.

“I had lent Rs20,000 to procure fertilizers and seeds. As the plants did not produce grains, I am worried about how to repay my loans.” Crop failures have been reported in many areas of Banke.

In Gorkha, one of the districts worst hit by the earthquake, the government had distributed 132 tonnes of paddy seeds, namely Sabitri and Ram Dhan, at subsidized rates. However, these plants also failed to yield grain.

This year, drought-hit farmers suffered again when they were unable to get fertilizes during the plant growing season as the highways were blocked and transportation crippled by a prolonged unrest in the Tarai. The government said that it had huge stockpiles of fertilisers but could not deliver them to farmers.

Paddy is cultivated on 1.5 million hectares of arable land in Nepal. Due to a drought in eight Tarai districts and erratic rain elsewhere, nearly 10 percent of the total paddy fields have been allowed to lie fallow this season, said the ministry.

Nepal Rastra Bank said that, according to the monsoon report based on information gathered by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology from 21 different centres in the country, the average rainfall from June 10 to August 15 this year was 74.2 percent of the average rainfall of the past 30 years. This is likely to hit agricultural output further.

Agro experts said the economic outlook for next year was bleak due to a weak monsoon. Agriculture, the major contributor to Nepal’s economy, is mainly rain-fed.

The paddy output dropped 5.1 percent to 4.78 million tonnes last year due to a late monsoon and untimely rainfall. The ministry had estimated a loss of Rs5 billion last year.

Nepal’s growth rate has been projected to dip to 3.7 percent in the fiscal year 2015-16 due to myriad problems that took a toll on the country’s economic activity after the April 25 earthquake, the World Bank has said. The government has set an ambitious 6 percent growth target for this fiscal year, backed by donor aid pledges totalling $4.4 billion for Nepal’s reconstruction effort.

Published: 03-11-2015 09:04

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