Print Edition - 2017-08-27  |  Free the Words

Farming in a time warp

  • Technology has pervaded every sphere of life in Nepal—except the agriculture sector
- Menila Kharel

Aug 27, 2017-

Agriculture and technology don’t go well together in Nepal. The technological explosion of the 21st century has changed every aspect of our lives, but it has done little to change the way farmers in Nepal cultivate their land and rear their cattle. Hence, the farm sector is plagued by low productivity which is one of the major reasons behind the prevalent food insecurity in the country. Speedy progress in technological innovation in agriculture and making this technology available to rural farmers is imperative to meet the Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) target of boosting agriculture growth from 3 to 5 percent in 10 years.

Transforming agriculture

Agriculture accounts for 33 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) even though 63 percent of the country’s workforce is engaged in it. In developed countries, extensive use of modern technology allows a small number of farmers to produce not only enough food for the country but also a surplus for export. Nepal can be said to be suffering from an injustice of technology injustice due to a lack of access and innovation, and improper use of technology. 

Agriculture in Nepal is predominantly a rural phenomenon. Technology, on the other hand, is the prerogative of the urban rich. It is sad but true: Agriculture has never been given the priority it deserves. Farmers are very rich in indigenous knowledge, but lack the science to modernise it. Thus, agriculture requires co-innovation by involving farmers and scientists which can make technology locally fit and sustainable. Development of technology should also include a consideration of socio-economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of the farming community to bring justice to the present and future generations of farmers. 

Bhakta Shahi (a fictional character) is a poor farmer in far-west Nepal. He was given imported hybrid seeds which could double the production output. The resulting bumper harvest meant that Shahi didn’t have to buy food from the market that year. His success became a story for newspapers. In the second year, Shahi found a new kind of pest in his field. He had to apply pesticides to control them. In the third year, he found that the pests had multiplied, and he had to buy more pesticides. By doing simple math, Shahi realised that his cost of production had more than doubled. He had no idea that the hybrid seeds had been developed not only to increase output but also to make farmers buy more pesticides produced by private manufacturers. This injustice cannot be acceptable. 

Rural farmers do not have easy access to production and market services. Lack of quality and timely inputs, extension, credit facilities, processing and market infrastructure has forced them to stick to subsistence farming. Moreover, the recent trend of youth migration has increased the workload of women. The feminisation of agriculture can be addressed with women-friendly smart technologies and other practical solutions. Young people struck by wanderlust can be encouraged to remain in the country if it can be proven that agriculture is not only a source of livelihood but also a lucrative business. 

Boosting production

Similarly, the private sector hesitates to invest in agriculture because it is not a profitable venture. Potential risks can be reduced by creating an enabling environment. Unless the private sector enters the agriculture business, prosperity in the agriculture sector will remain a distant dream. The access of small farmers to technology can be increased by promoting intermediate technology that is cheaper and hence more affordable. They are built on indigenous knowledge and can be easily adopted. Technology that considers the local ecology will not have a detrimental impact on it. Such innovation will also bridge the gap between traditional and modern practices, thereby enabling farmers to benefit from conventional technology.Nepal has achieved accelerated progress in communications technology in the past decade. Mobile phones, FM radios and television have reached the remotest corners of the county. SMS systems and radio and television programmes are some of the ways ICT (information and communications technology) can be used to spread agricultural knowledge. However, they are rarely used in the agriculture sector. Communication technology can be used more efficiently and effectively to bring transformative change in Nepal’s rural agriculture sector.

Reducing technological injustices also requires a paradigm shift in research and innovation. The private sector should be encouraged to invest in research and development, and embrace service to farmers as its corporate social responsibility. Research should focus not only on developing new technology but also on the benefits of the existing technology, most notably information technology, in the farm sector. The current era requires a digitised agriculture system.

The 10-year Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project which aims to boost agriculture productivity in Nepal is well matched to the country’s current needs. In order to make the project successful, the persistent gaps in technology and other issues in agriculture should be addressed. It should focus on promoting affordable farm equipment and other sustainable practices. It should also collaborate with the private sector and development organisations. 

The Prime Minister Agriculture Modernisation Project can work with development organisations like Practical Action and others involved in technology development and promotion to increase the access of rural farmers to smart technologies. Practical Action is committed to poverty alleviation in Nepal by providing appropriate technology and practical solutions to small holders in a sustainable way. Most notably, Gravity Goods Ropeways are being promoted across Nepal in collaboration with government and development organisations. Nepal lost the battle against food insecurity in the last decade because it lacked technology. In order to meet the agriculture growth target envisioned in the ADS, the technology injustice that is pervasive in the agriculture sector should be brought to an end.

 

- Kharel is Programme Coordinator in the Agriculture and Food security Programme at Practical  Action  Regional Office

Published: 27-08-2017 07:56

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