Nepali Times
Sowing doubts


Comments by senior Maoists at a recent meeting with small farmers have left them nervous that the reality of the Maoists' land reform program may be different from their stated intent.

Senior Maoist CP Gajurel said he had been impressed by the cooperatives he had seen in Japan, and would use them as his model for boosting farm output. But many in his audience were aware that in 'cooperative' model farms in Rolpa production teams and work in Cultural Revolution-style brigades even though China has long since abandoned them.

Instead of professing: "From each according to his ability to each according to his needs", the Chinese had adopted the Soviet Union's variation: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work". Furthermore, Chinese farmers had also been given small plots of land for private cultivation, which were considerably more productive than their collectively-farmed counterparts.

But is this the case in Rolpa? And what have the Maoists planned for the rest of the country? During the 'people's war', Nepal's relatively few but economically self-sufficient small-farmer cooperatives were often targeted by Maoist guerrillas. A Maoist at the recent meeting expressed a degree of remorse, claiming that they had only turned to their guns after their attempts to be heard by the state failed. But his audience remained unimpressed.

In the same breath he also disclosed that the Maoists had seized 50,000 bighas of land and would not release it until the party had implemented the so-called scientific land reform?a concept that, despite its repetitive use, has remained mysteriously undefined.

Nepal's small-farmer cooperatives operate in 228 VDCs with 133,000 members, more than half of whom are women. They evolved from a successful FAO initiative in the mid-1970s, backed by the Agricultural Development Bank, to provide support to small farmers. The Small Farmers Development Project was expanded with foreign funding and at one time involved 16 per cent of Nepal's villages.

The size of the program eventually grew beyond the means of the Agricultural Development Bank, which handed it over to the farmers themselves, in the form of small-farmer cooperatives. As with Nepal's forest user groups, the small-farmer cooperatives remain a fine domestic innovation which, according to a GTZ review in 2003, have "dramatically changed the fortunes for many small farmer members for the better".

They are eligible for loans of hundreds of millions of rupees each year from the Agricultural Development Bank, available to members for income-generating activities. The impact has been significant, increasing available credit by about Rs11,600 per member in 2007. This also points to the possibility of using the liquidity of the commercial banking sector for rural poverty alleviation without having to bend over backwards to donors all the time.

Despite such successes, historically the program has been in retreat, plagued by government and donor indifference. The National Planning Commission, despite its untiring refrain about poverty alleviation, remains ignorant of small-farmer cooperatives even though they are now being replicated in Afghanistan with Nepali expertise. The Finance Ministry, responsible for guiding and coordinating foreign aid, functions more as a rubber stamp to legitimise donor proposals.

The 2003 GTZ review recommended an expansion of the program to create 400 cooperatives catering to 400,000 households within four years, but this was ignored. Meanwhile, there is the Poverty Alleviation Fund with $100 million in World Bank funding. Unfortunately, the PAF is myopic and is engaged in promoting what it calls "community organisation", which by all accounts is a poorer version of the small farmers development project of the 1970s.

If the Maoists are serious about their stated commitment to poor farmers and their cooperatives, this is where the government they lead should be concentrating their efforts.

Land and peace - FROM ISSUE #414 (22 AUG 2008 - 28 AUG 2008)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)