MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Sathrughan Kumar Baitha of Banjaria, in Bara is doing an intermediate-level course in commerce, but also helps out his family on their farm. Sathrughan too has no intention of staying back, and dreams instead of going abroad. He doesn't know where, but so long as it is outside Nepal, that's good enough for him.
Sandeep and Sathrughan are not only the ones who cannot see a future for themselves in agriculture. Every year thousands of Nepal's rural youth are migrating to countries like Qatar and Malaysia, or even war-zones like Iraq or Afghanistan to work as labourers.
Why are so many prepared to face the debt, toil, and often humiliation and danger which going to work in these place entails? The reason, Baitha says, is simple: "There is no money in farming."
Considering the soaring food prices in both the international and the local markets, one might think that local farmers are making a tidy profit too, at least in the last couple of months. But this is not the case.
"There is some profit, but the costs are even higher," says Ram Lakhan Prasad, a farmer at Barthoda VDC. The cost of fertilisers and equipment is rising, and farmers' productivity is further affected by a lack of irrigation and a generally low awareness of technological advancements.
And in most cases, it is not the farmers who reap the benefits of rising market prices for their crops, but the middlemen who get the goods to market.
"It's farm brokers and stockists who are really benefiting the most from these price rises," says Manish Kumar Goinka, who owns a flour mill. "Farmers are not getting nearly as much out of it."
Ram Lakhan Prasad explains: "We cannot decide the rate we sell at ourselves. We have to agree to the price set by farm traders."
With limited cash reserves, most farmers are in a weak position when bargaining with the traders. Many are living hand-to-mouth, with any spare income spent on children's school fees. They cannot afford to hold back their produce and wait for a better deal.
Fluctuating prices mean that farmers' incomes are uncertain despite their constant hard work and investment.
Many farmers in Bara say that if the government could help to provide irrigation systems, their productivity would rise and their costs would fall.
"If we had proper irrigation, we could harvest in three or even four seasons as opposed to the two seasons that we can now," says Lal Babu Raut from Banjaria.
Electricity is also scarce, so farmers depend on diesel pumps to water their fields, which cost roughly 10 times more than an electric pump. The nationwide diesel shortage has exacerbated this problem.
Ram Prasad Singh, a farmer in Barthoda, says: "I'm happy about New Nepal, but the most important thing for me to is to have enough electricity to make my machines work."