New Irrigation Bill for better mgmt of sector

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu
New Irrigation Bill for better mgmt of sector

Dec 4, 2014-

The Ministry of Irrigation is drafting a new Irrigation Bill aimed at promoting better use of water to boost farm production and productivity in the context of changing land-use and water availability.

As the existing Irrigation Regulation had been prepared under the Water Resources Act 1992 under the then Ministry of Water Resources, ministry officials said the proposed bill had been intended to create a self-governing law for irrigation. In 2009 during the premiership of Madhav Kumar Nepal, the Ministry of Water Resources was divided into Energy and Irrigation ministries.

“The draft is in the initial phase and two rounds of meetings have been conducted so far,” said Madhav Prasad Regmi, secretary of the ministry. “As the irrigation dimension has changed a lot over a decade, there was a need for a separate law to govern this sector,” he said. The ministry has been preparing a draft outline of the proposed bill which will be discussed by various parliamentary committees and other stakeholders, he added.

In the past, large-scale irrigation systems were built to supply water to farmers for a limited number of crops by diverting water from rivers and streams. However, with the changing context, there are now many new challenges in the implementation of irrigation projects, Regmi said.

In Nepal, the rains have been erratic, and even at times of abundant rain, flash floods become major concerns. Floods and landslides this year have destroyed crops, mainly paddy, on 35,000 hectares. In areas without irrigation schemes, farmers have been left to count their losses.

The government has long touted irrigation schemes as key infrastructure that could boost agricultural production. Billions of rupees have been invested by the government in four mega-irrigation projects—Sikta, Rani-Jamara-Kulariya, Babai and the Bheri-Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project. Likewise, the Mahakali, Bagmati and Sunsari-Morang irrigation projects are in the construction phase.

There are more than a dozen medium irrigation projects and a large number of community-managed irrigation projects in the country. The country’s farm production has been undermined by lack of irrigation infrastructure and poor management of the existing irrigation schemes. Subsidies and the operation of small and large irrigation projects have not been up to the mark. “All these problems point to the need for an effective law to implement irrigation schemes properly,” Regmi added.

A poor monsoon is terrible news for Nepal’s agriculture, given the limited irrigation facilities and heavy reliance on rain-fed farming. Economic Survey 2013-14 showed that irrigation coverage has been extended to 1.76 million hectares out of 2.64 million hectares of arable land. However, round-the-year irrigation facilities are only available for around 20 percent of the arable land.

Fluctuating rainfall determines the course of the country’s farm sector that accounts for about 36 percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product.

Because of an early monsoon and timely rainfall, Nepal recorded an all-time high food grain production of over 9.45 million tonnes in 2011-12. As a result, the economic growth rate rose to 4.6 percent that year. Paddy output amounted 5.072 million tonnes, up 13.7 percent compared to 2010-11.

The climate, however, did not favour paddy farmers in 2012-13. Nepal’s annual output of cereal crops dropped by 7.6 percent to 8.73 million tonnes, largely due to a fall in paddy output. Paddy output dropped by 11.3 percent and the economic growth rate slumped to a six-year low of 3.5 percent, the lowest since 2006-07.

This fiscal too, Nepal’s paddy output has been projected to drop significantly due to insufficient rainfall, landslides and floods. Government officials say unfavourable climatic behaviours could be a huge setback to achieving this fiscal year’s targeted 6 percent growth in paddy production. Not only did the monsoon arrive 10 days behind schedule this year, rainfall was weak throughout the country.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said that the harvesting of this year’s paddy crop had just begun and would continue till mid-December. FAO forecasts this year’s rice production to reach 4.6 million tonnes, down 9 percent from last year’s bumper level but close to the average of the past five years.

The decrease has been attributed to an estimated 6 percent contraction in the area planted as a result of late and below-average monsoon which hindered sowing operations and reduced yields.

Additional damage was caused to the crop by floods and landslides across the Mid-Western and Far Western regions following heavy rains in August. Cereal import requirements for 2014-15 are forecast at 571,800 tonnes, about 10 percent above last year’s high level.

Published: 05-12-2014 09:34

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