Reap what you sow
May 6, 2014-Agriculture is still the primary source of food, income and employment for a majority of Nepalis. As a result, agriculture has been the backbone of the Nepali economy for a long time now. Based on preliminary data, the share of agriculture and forestry in the gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to hit 30.27 percent this fiscal year, according to a forecast by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Nepal’s GDP is expected to rise by approximately 5.15 percent as a result of increased agricultural production. However, the economy continues to suffer due to ongoing political instability in the country. The agriculture sector has been most affected by uncertainty in the nation, as a majority of youth are now choosing foreign employment or other forms of employment within the country over agriculture.
Migration is increasing at a rapid pace with over 450,000 Nepalis leaving for foreign employment in the last fiscal year. Over 300,000 Nepalis have already left for foreign employment in the first eight months of the fiscal year 2013-14. Villages have become devoid of youth, creating a shortage of the workforce in agriculture. To quote a saying by one prominent sociologist, Ganesh Gurung, “Nepal is becoming a youth-less and toothless country.” Many acres of land have been abandoned.
As a consequence of the decrease in agricultural workforce and production, Nepalis are now relying on remittances for their livelihood. The country’s predominantly agriculture-based economy is slowly moving towards a remittance-based economy. According to the Nepal Development Report prepared by the World Bank, the contribution of workers’ remittances equalled 25.5 percent of the total GDP during the fiscal year 2012-13. CBS estimates that workers’ remittances will equal 30.21 percent of the nation’s GDP this fiscal year, a significant increase from last fiscal year.
I recently had a chance to visit two villages—Pumdi and Kalabang—in Kaski district of western Nepal. There were youths who were roaming around the village while their elders were in the fields. These youth had no intention of working in agriculture. In fact, it was a matter of shame for them to be working in the fields. Loss of the young workforce due to migration and the unwillingness of the youth left behind to work in agriculture has created a severe labour shortage. This shortage, along with inflation, has resulted in increased wages and village households with modest incomes (even for remittance-receiving households) have been unable to hire labourers. A consequence is that much land is now abandoned. Changes in weather patterns in the last few decades have also contributed to variations in agricultural production. According to village elders, the weather has changed significantly in the last few decades, the most obvious effect being irregular rainfall patterns as well as the inconsistent intensity of rainfall. Though I have put forward the cases of two villages in Kaski, they are representative of Nepal in general.
The rise in the GDP growth rate to 5.15 percent this year from 3.26 percent in 2012/13 has been attributed to a rise in agricultural production, an increase in paddy output by approximately 12 percent and an increase in maize production by approximately 10 percent. This illustrates that even in the case of a labour force shortage, agriculture remains the major source of GDP for the country. Given favourable conditions, the rise in production significantly contributes to improving the GDP. It has become essential that the sectors concerned with the nation’s economic development put more focus on the development of infrastructure for agriculture as well as formulating plans and policies that encourage the youth (non-migrants and potential migrants) of the country to pursue agriculture.
Many parts of the country depend solely on rainfall for farming. Changes in weather patterns and inconsistent duration and intensity of rainfall have caused inconsistency in production. Better irrigation facilities need to be developed in those villages that depend on rainfall for farming. Newer and more advanced technologies should be introduced. Commercial agriculture should be promoted to attract youth to practice agriculture.
Prakash Gurung, a prominent social figure in the village of Pumdi-Bhumdi in Kaski, says that action needs to be taken now. “I do commercial agriculture, livestock (sheep) farming and have had enough. The government needs to act promptly to educate the youth about commercial agriculture. Better irrigation facilities in the village will help commercial agriculture; this will lead to control in migration. Commercial agriculture is the future of Pumdi-Bhumdi,” said Gurung.
The government should also be proactive in formulating programmes and policies for successful reintegration of returnee migrants. Returnee migrants bring in money as well as experience. However, a lack of concerted programmes, policies and information has led to a situation where many returnee migrants are either inactive or are considering foreign employment once again. According to various government research statistics, of the 735,000 returning migrant workers in 2009, 47 percent returned to agriculture while 22 percent remained inactive. A majority (77 percent) of recent returnees have been considering going back to overseas employment due to limited job and investment opportunities in Nepal.
Migration, remittance and agriculture are greatly related to one another. While the trend of foreign employment has created labour shortages in the country, agriculture remains significant in terms of its contribution to the nation’s economy. We should look for a long-term strategy for the agriculture sector and try to get an in-depth understanding of the relationship between agriculture and migration/remittance to identify the potential for synergy between the two. It is important to keep the youth workforce in the country if we are to take major strides in the development of the nation.
Parajuli is an environmental engineer with an interest in developmental research. He is currently associated with the Nepal Institute of Development Studies
Published: 07-05-2014 08:28