Govt looks to mechanisation as youths abandon farms

  • 12th national paddy day
Govt looks to mechanisation as youths abandon farms

Jun 29, 2015-

As youth labour outflows have severely hit Nepal’s farm sector, the government is celebrating the 12th National Paddy Day this year with the theme Agricultural Mechanization, Reduce Costs of Production in a bid to make up for the shrinking workforce by promoting mechanization.

Farmers have been provided 25-50 percent subsidies on farm machinery like power tillers, crop threshers and small irrigation machines, the Ministry of Agricultural Development said. The subsidies will be increased gradually to encourage young people to take up farming.

“As the government has accorded priority to farm mechanization, it has been increasing subsidies on farm machinery in recent years in the belief that farm labour costs have increased, and unless farmers adopt mechanization, productivity will be affected leading to a rise in food prices,” said Shankar Sapkota, assistant spokesperson of the ministry.

As part of the scheme, Agriculture Minister Hari Prasad Parajuli on Monday announced that the government had decided to distribute free shallow tube-wells to landholders owning 4-6 bighas of land from the next fiscal year. The government had introduced tractor and pump sets in the mid-1960s. However, during the period 1980-85, the Agricultural Development Bank had cut back financing for tractor and other farm machinery.

Agriculture, particularly paddy cultivation, has been a matter of human sweat and draught animal labour. Oxen pulled ploughs to prepare the soil for planting. Besides, hard labour-planting seeds, tilling, cultivating, cutting, collecting, bundling, threshing and loading-has remained a farming reality. Despite the hard labour, incomes are very low.

According to a study, the cost of preparing land and sowing using machines is one-third less than traditional practices. For example, land preparation and sowing costs Rs988 per hectare using machines compared to Rs2,891 manually. Besides, productivity increases 10-20 percent through the use of machines.

National Agriculture Census 2011-12 showed that Nepal’s agriculture has made a slight progress in terms of mechanization. As per the survey, 22.04 percent of the farm households in the country used tractors and 20.96 percent reported using threshers on their farms.

This is a big improvement from Agricultural Census 2001-02 which showed that the proportion of households using tractors and threshers was less than 10 percent. Around 14.30 percent reported using pump sets.

However, power tillers are not popular among farmers as only 1.97 percent reported using them in their farming operations. The last census showed that there were less than 1 percent of the holdings using power tillers. Still, 28.01 percent of the holders are using the most basic farm technology -- the iron plough. Users of iron ploughs made up 26.1 percent of the farm households in the last census.

Farming still remains labour intensive in the 21st century, and as a result, it has failed to attract the youth population with more than 1,500 people leaving the country daily in search of better income abroad.

Sapkota admitted that without mechanizing the farm sector, the country could not think of increasing production and productivity.  Meanwhile, amid worries that the country is gradually becoming dependent on imported rice, the Agriculture Ministry is launching the first paddy mission from the next fiscal year aimed at boosting output and productivity to feed the growing population.

The three-year mission has set a target of becoming self-reliant in rice and being in a position to export paddy by the end of the scheme. The mission will cover 670,000 hectares in 13 Tarai districts-Jhapa, Sunsari, Morang, Bara, Sarlahi, Parsa, Rupandehi, Kapilvastu, Dang, Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur.

As per the target, the government plans to increase the average paddy productivity to 3.43 tonnes per hectare in the first year 2015-16 from the current 3.17 tonnes, and increase yield to 3.57 tonnes in the second year 2016-17. In the third phase, paddy productivity will increase to 3.66 tonnes per hectare. Likewise, the ministry said that paddy output has been projected to increase to 4.94 million tonnes in the first year from the existing 4.78 million tonnes under the mission. In the second and third years, output has been targeted to increase to 5.22 million tonnes and 5.40 million tonnes respectively.

Paddy is by far the most important crop in Nepal, and accounts for 52 percent of the total agricultural area and production in the country. It is grown on about 1.45 million hectares. Although Nepal used to export substantial quantities of rice in the 1970s and mid-1980s, the country stopped exporting it from 1987-88 onwards. Now, Nepal is gradually become one of the major rice importers in the South Asian region.

As per the three-year paddy mission, the ministry has targeted reducing rice imports to 277,000 tonnes from the current 530,000 tonnes in its first year. Imports will be reduced to 96,000 tonnes in the second year, and the government has aimed to become self-reliant in rice by the third year or able to export 10,000 tonnes of rice. The mission has set a target to reduce the country’s rice import bills to Rs6 billion and Rs2 billion respectively in its first and second years respectively. Currently, Nepal imports rice worth Rs14 billion annually.

Published: 30-06-2015 08:34

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