We all love food. We love eating it, sharing it, love growing it and love celebrating it. We are all passionate too about the land where we live our life, grow and harvest our food. From our first bites to our most memorable dinners, it's a part of all our lives. Food joins friends, families and communities together all over the world. It's a part of all our customs and traditions.
As we enter the Dasain holiday season many in Nepal will be enjoying plentiful feasts. Animals will be slaughtered and the markets will be overflowing with food, and people purchasing it. Bhat Bhateni and other supermarkets will see a frenzy of business and we will see mountains of wasted food in the Kalimati vegetable market.
This may give an impression that Nepal is a land free of hunger. Sadly, as we mark World Food Day today, the facts tell a different story. Over a third of Nepal's 75 districts suffer from high food insecurity, with chronic food insecurity affecting up to 80 per cent of the population in heavily-affected areas such as the Western Tarai. A majority of Nepalis are farmers yet many cannot adequately feed their own families, and food imports are steadily rising.
Nepal's food production is headed towards crisis. Compared to Asian averages, yields are very low and the main reason is low investment for fertiliser, improved seeds, water development and farmers' access to credit and insurance. Increased investment in transportation infrastructure, storage, processing facilities, distribution networks and market development are also needed. Farmers at present do not receive fair prices for their produce and costs are not competitive with neighbouring countries.
It is not economically attractive to be a farmer in Nepal, and young people are deserting the rural areas for low-paying and demeaning work in the cities or abroad. Labour scarcity is a problem and valuable local farming knowledge is being lost. Suppressing food production further is the declining water availability, reliance on unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather patterns linked to climate change and farmers' increasing vulnerability to it as well as their lack of resilience.
A final factor limiting food production is the lack of access to land for the majority of people suffering from chronic food insecurity. Even if Nepal successfully increases food production, it will face many challenges to ensure that food is equitably distributed and accessible to everyone in the country. Addressing this will first require a clear legal recognition enshrined in the new Constitution of every person's right to food of adequate quality and quantity. This must be then backed up by relevant investments and policies. Meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction will ensure a larger number of people will be able to afford food for their families. For those still below the poverty line appropriate safety net programs must be developed and funded for implementation.
Nepal must adopt equitable access to food for all as a core goal, and to make progress towards this goal it should:
1.Protect the universal right to food:
-Enshrine in law the legal right to food and employment
- Reduce vulnerability by creating a minimum social protection floor to lift people out of chronic food insecurity.
-Effectively implement an integrated array of adequately financed and inflation indexed universal entitlements to protect food security.
-Ensure that government programs prioritise the needs of children and women, especially from marginalised communities.
2. Support smallholder farmers:
-Prioritise land reform and redistribution of land and support poor peoples' rights to land and other assets essential for productive livelihoods
-Increase agricultural investments that benefit smallholder farmers, especially women.
-Support agro-ecological, climate resilient and sustainable agricultural techniques
-Ensure farmers receive fair prices for their produce
-Ensure farmers access to required inputs
-Incorporate the above measures in the new Agricultural Policy under development
3. Adapt to and mitigate climate change:
-Invest in climate change adaptation measures
-Provide leadership in the UN as LDC Chair for resources and policies to address climate change globally
-Invest in Disaster Risk Reduction to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience of farmers and the food insecure population
Scott Faiia is Country Director for Oxfam in Nepal and has worked on relief and development in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan since 1973.