Four promising opportunities for transforming agriculture and development: Reflections from recent visit and interactions in Nepal

Four promising opportunities for transforming agriculture and development: Reflections from recent visit and interactions in Nepal

Where I visited and who I interacted with?

During my recent travel to Nepal from the last week of October to mid-November 2019, I visited the country all the way from Kanchanpur district in the far-west to Jhapa and Ilam districts in the far-east. During this extensive travel, I had an opportunity to visit several farmers’ fields (mainly with rice across the Terai districts but also tea plantations in Jhapa and Ilam). I also held meetings with key leaders of various private and public entities and research and development organisations.  The Nepal Government has been implementing the Prime Minister Agricultural Modernization Project (PMAMP) under which there are several super zones, zones and blocks for various crops across the country. I visited rice super zones in Kanchanpur, Bardiya and Jhapa, maize super zone in Dang, wheat super zone in Kailali, and a few zones for other crops in other districts. I had opportunities to meet over two dozen academic, research and extension professionals, farmers, policy makers, including the honourable Minister for Agriculture Ghanashyam Bhushal and Secretary Dr Y. D. Joshi. I was also invited by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)-Nepal, and the International Maize and Wheat Research Centre (CIMMYT) country office in Kathmandu each for an update meeting.

Specifically, I visited the Agriculture Faculty of Far Western University (FWU) in Tikapur (Kailali district) and Mahendra Nagar (Kanchanpur district) in Province #7, Prithu Agriculture College, run in affiliation with Tribhuvan University, in Lamahi, Dang in Province # 5, Global Agri-Tech Nepal Pvt. Ltd (a private seed company run by shareholders) seed production and delivery farm in Nepalganj in Province # 5, Hiamalayan Institute of Agriculture Science and Technology (HICAST) in Kalanki, Kathmandu, in Province #3, and Gauradaha Agriculture campus run in affiliation with the Tribhuvan University and an agricultural cooperative run by local women’s association in Maharani Jhoda, both in Gauradaha, Jhapa, in Province #1. My visit also included the tea and cardamom plantations, commercial vegetables cropping, and improved (Australian breeds) goat farming in Jhapa and Ilam districts.

I was invited by the Dean of the Agriculture Faculty Dr Lal P. Amgain in Tikapur to conduct a quick informal feasibility study about possible collaboration between the FWU Agricultural College and Nepalese Association of Agriculture, Forestry and Environment in Australia (NEPAFE), Institute for Study and Development Worldwide (IFSD), and other Australian research and development organizations. The Faculty started just two years back and the leaders told me that it is in need of support for developing or revising curricula for undergraduate courses and also for developing new curricula for Masters’ program in Agriculture. The Faculty is willing to invite Australian academics and scientists to give guest lectures to the undergraduate students either face-to-face on campus or through videoconferences. I also attended meetings with other academic and general staff and students of the College and visited the physical facilities of the University in Tikapur and Mahendra Nagar. In Kathmandu, I visited HICAST, where I received a warm welcome by the Founder Chairperson of the College Dr Binayak Rajbhandary. I am an Honorary Professor to HICAST.

The Gauradaha campus in Jhapa is headed by Mr. Krishna Hari Devkota. The Campus started just more than a year ago with undergraduate program in agriculture and requires substantial external support to improve the quality of teaching and research. Mr. Devkota organized a meeting for me with the academic staff of the college. The staff were very enthusiastic and want academic and research support from the Australian universities and research institutions. The most noteworthy and memorable aspect of my visit was the agricultural cooperative in Maharani Jhoda, Jhapa. The Cooperative has consolidated several adjoining fragmented lands of different farmers forming large-sized fields/plots and operating farm machines for tilling lands, and for planting, harvesting and threshing of cereals and vegetables. I found that the Cooperative is demonstrating excellent examples of land consolidation and mechanization and road to commercialization of agriculture. Policy makers should visit and learn from such a successful model farm and develop policies to replicate such model to other districts too.

Four Opportunities

Based on these visits, interactions, and observations, I think there are at least four important opportunities which Nepal can act immediately to transform its agricultural sector.

  1. Opportunity to learn from the past lessons and take bold actions to reform agriculture section: Nepal has diverse climatic regions, soil types, and agro-ecologies. The diverse agro-ecologies allow growing diverse crops and cropping systems, vegetables and fruits and raising livestock providing diverse sources of income from farming. The country has long experience in agricultural education, research, extension, marketing and broad value chains. Researchers and extension workers in universities and government and non-government organizations have gained substantial, field-level experience in agricultural research, extension and development. Instead of being lost and trying to reinvent the wheel, the country has the opportunity to learn from the past lessons, and use the results of research findings and field-level experiences of agricultural professionals in policy, thus taking bold actions to reform the agriculture sector in the country.
  2. Building and broadening wider and international research collaboration to enhance quality in research and innovation development: In today’s modern world, technologies and tools for research, extension and innovation are changing rapidly due to invention and rapid dissemination and the rapid adoption of computer- and cloud-based ICT tools and techniques. While the country has great experience in qualitative techniques in research, extension and innovation, it lacks quantitative and biophysical techniques and tools. Some examples of such techniques and tools are: simulation modelling to predict crop yields, pest and diseases; GIS and remote sensing to characterize environments and facilitate technology transfer; artificial intelligence and precision agriculture for site-specific management of crops and inputs and resources; short- and medium-term weather forecasting to enable yield and disease farecasting for farmers, sensors and automations, big data and Internet of Things (IoTs), and digital agriculture and smart farming. International collaborative opportunities need to be exploited and capacity building activities in these rapidly developing techniques must be initiated and broadened both within and outside the country to make rapid progress in these frontiers.
  3. Commercialization of agriculture: Rural youth migration, labor shortage, and land fallowing are now major challenges for Nepalese agriculture and food security. Government policies and programs should address these issues to stop or reduce migration and stop lands from being abandoned or degraded. Scale-appropriate mechanization is necessary to tackle labor shortage and bring back the fallowed lands under cultivation, and mechanization will lead to commercialization of agriculture. There are some successful examples of mechanization within the country; for instance, in PMAMP super zones in Jhapa and Dang, and of commercialization of vegetables, tea and fruits plantations, and goat and poultry farming in several districts in the country. As mentioned above, the agricultural cooperative run by rural women’s association serves as a specific example of land consolidation and mechanization of agriculture. For the rapid transition to commercialization, there should be favourable government policy to import, demonstrate and scale up the scale-appropriate farm machines to facilitate mechanization and its rapid uptake by farmers. The above examples of innovations should be replicated to other districts too, and the government policy should capture such innovations to make rapid reforms in agriculture (opportunity #1 above).
  4. Improvement of education quality and academic teaching in agriculture: Education is the main pillar or a backbone for development of any country. Education must be current, relevant, and context specific to maintain its standard and quality. Since agriculture is a techno-social field, the education should be based on research findings, and should be informed by practical, field-level experiences of teachers providing education. Agricultural education should be delivered in such a way that the students receiving such education must be able to work with farmers and provide them the farm-specific solutions across the diverse climates, soils and agro-ecologies. Currently, the agricultural curricula in universities and colleges are based on traditional contents and are lectures-based and lack modern contents and innovative techniques and hands-on practical classes. Both qualitative and quantitative techniques and tools in teaching are necessary for quality education. University and college teachers must conduct research to maintain their currency in science and teaching so that agricultural education is current, relevant, and context-specific. As for opportunity #2 above, such techniques and methods should be introduced in agricultural courses to provide cost-effective and efficient solutions to farmers across the country

Dr. Timsina is Senior Fellow of Global Ever Greening Alliance and President of NEPAFE, Australia