Small landholdings to be consolidated to cut costs

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Apr 27, 2016-

The government plans to introduce a special programme to consolidate fragmented landholdings to grow priority crops from the next fiscal year in a move aimed at boosting productivity and reducing the cost of production, the Ministry of Agricultural Development said.  

“The consolidation of landholdings will increase the productivity of priority crops. It will also promote the use of subsidized inputs and extension services offered to farmers by the government,” said Agriculture Minister Haribol Gajurel, addressing a workshop entitled Agricultural Mechanization in South Asia: Trends, Patterns and Implications for Agricultural Development in Nepal on Tuesday.

“For example, if 100 hectares of small landholdings are consolidated, we can focus on planting resource intensive priority crops there. “This will reduce the cost of production of farmers and help the government to properly distribute subsidized inputs and extension services to farmers.” 

He added that farmers readily agreed to growing paddy, maize, wheat and other crops on integrated land under this farming model instead of growing them individually as it reduced labour and financial costs.

The government will classify farmland into various categories like super zones, special zones, pocket areas and blocks to improve land management and productivity, according to the minister. Seven super zones will be established in the seven provinces, and under them there will be special zones, pocket areas and blocks, he said.

The government will provide all types of services and facilities like irrigation, seeds, electricity, roads and machinery after classifying the farm lands. “We are still practicing subsistence farming, and this needs to be transformed into commercial farming to attain self-sufficiency in food,” he said. 

Agriculture Secretary Uttam Kumar Bhattarai said out-migration of youths had created a shortage of farm labour, resulting in arable land lying fallow. “Hence, we need to adopt mechanization to reduce production costs and address the present labour shortage.” 

Farming is a backbreaking activity in Nepal. The method of tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting and bundling hasn’t changed for centuries. Despite the hard work, farmers earn very little.

Studies have revealed that 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 mechanization.

National Agriculture Census 2011-12 showed that Nepal’s agriculture has made 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. 

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 jobs abroad.

“Farm mechanization is not an option but a compulsion now,” said Anjani Kumar, research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, India. “To make agriculture competitive in South Asia, we have to promote mechanization.” 

Farm machinery for hire

The Agriculture Ministry has been studying the concept of ‘custom hiring services’ in a bid to achieve the objective of farm mechanization to boost production and productivity, Agriculture Minister Haribol Gajurel said.

Under this concept, farmers who cannot afford to buy high-end agricultural machinery will be able to rent them. The plan also envisages servicing old farm equipment.

“It’s a new model and requires homework, and we are currently discussing it,” Gajurel said. 

Custom hiring services are not widely practiced in Nepal, but hiring farm hands to plant crops is common. 

Government officials said that introducing such facilities would play a key role in introducing high technology farm machinery to even ordinary farmers that could boost production and improve the quality of agricultural operations. 

Published: 27-04-2016 08:13

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