Levying the land

  • Domestic and international migration trends have greatly changed the ways land is used in Nepal
Levying the land

May 8, 2014-

This is spring season and a time to plant crops. The hills and mountains, where maize, wheat, buckwheat, potato and vegetables used to grow in the past, are now growing sapling of various kinds. This is increasingly becoming a problem for Nepal.

The agrarian land of the hills is transforming into bare lands and forests. Similarly, the agrarian land of the Tarai is being cleared for housing and human settlement. Still, about 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture in Nepal. But the proportion of the population conducting agricultural activities has been declining over the years. A few important factors are contributing to this change in land use.

Migration trends

When the CPN-Maoist launched its armed conflict in 1996, one of its primary aims was scientific land distribution. The Maoists seized lands, captured property and destroyed the physical structure of landed elites, who were forced to abandon their lands. As the conflict was primarily raging in the hills and mountains, most elites migrated to the Tarai. Similarly, another factor contributing to migration was abduction and forced conscription into the Maoist ‘People’s Liberation Army’.

Thus, thousands of people migrated to the Tarai regions during armed conflict after selling or abandoning their land. Most no doubt wanted to sell their land but there were few buyers. In these circumstances, most vacated their lands.

Migration is not a new phenomena. It has been continuing since malaria was first eradicated in the Tarai in 1958. However, the rate of migration increased sharply after the insurgency. Before and after the armed conflict, people migrated to the Tarai mainly due to the push factors of unemployment, food insecurity, lack of education, health services, electricity, fragile land, inaccessibility of road and risk of natural calamities. Over a 40 year period, the mountain and hill population has substantially dropped by 2.9 and 9.5 percent respectively. On the contrary, the Tarai population has gone up by a significant 12.4 percent.

International labour migration has also brought tremendous change in land use. A large proportion of the young human resource has migrated to the Gulf countries, Malaysia, South Korea and India in search of employment. They earn an average of Rs 20,000-100,000 a month. According to Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment, international labour migration is skyrocketing. The international labour migration rate has increased by 106.7032 percent during the last 20 years.

The remittance from these migrant labourers is utilised mainly for education, health, food, clothes and other daily necessities. Additionally, remittance is now being used to buy land in the Tarai, as opposed to purchasing land in the hills and mountains. As a result, the land fragmentation rate has increased by 11.93 percent from 1991/92. Additionally, thousands of hectares of agrarian land in the Tarai are being converted to settlements to house the inflow of new migrants from the hills. This development has also been made possible due to the availability of remittance.

Where basic services are

The level of awareness about basic needs and services is rising gradually. Nepali society is being influenced by the forces of globalisation and modernisation. People now value their children’s education and seek better health facilities than traditional healing and witchcraft. These facilities are not available uniformly in the hills and mountains.

Similarly, much land in the hills and mountains is fragile and infertile. The crop yield is often not satisfactory. A majority of people are marginal landowners or landless. Oftentimes, low production is not sufficient for the months of the year when production is not possible due to weather constraints. Consequently, these people need to purchase food and imported food is not available everywhere in the hills. The nearest market centres are often at a considerable distance and the price is expensive. Hence, they leave the hills and migrate to the Tarai where daily wage labour and food are more easily available.

Natural calamity is another important push factor for migration to the Tarai. The hills and mountains have rugged topography, complex geographical structures, high relief and variability in climatic conditions. These areas are young, unconsolidated and fragile with steep slope gradients, intense precipitation and thin vegetation, which make them prone to erosion. Thus, the hills and mountains are highly vulnerable to water-induced disaster, such as landslides, soil erosion, debris flow and slope failure. Farming land and settlements are always vulnerable to disasters.

Mitigation measures

The rate of land abandonment is high in areas where basic services like education, health, drinking water, food, electricity and roads are not available. The government should strictly implement a policy that discourages land fragmentation, especially in the Tarai. As people tend not to abandon areas where basic services are available, there needs to be a more concerted effort to introduce such services to areas in the hills and mountains. Furthermore, a policy prioritising commercial farming along with irrigation facility should be introduced. Distribution of improved seeds as per their suitability to the soil, elevation, climate and geographical features would also be one effective measure.

Additionally, the possibilities of income generation through the promotion and development of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) are many. Such products can play an important role in the reduction of poverty in the hills and mountains and encourage a more sustainable use of land.  Loans, grants and technological support for livestock farming can also be mitigation measures for land abandonment. As hills and mountains are the primary areas of land abandonment, establishing industries on vacant, non-arable land would provide employment and also help in the development of market centres.

Pariyar holds a Masters in Geography from Tribhuvan University and works in the field of development, disaster management and social inclusion

Published: 09-05-2014 08:30

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