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Hunger looms


RUBEENA MAHATO


RUBEENA MAHATO
SEED FUND: A woman in Ganeshpur dries seeds for next season's planting.
Dadeldhura – "Our lives revolve around rice. We have no other worries. Our sons sweat all their lives in India for rice and their sons will do the same," says Gorakh Bahadur Malla, 68, of Ganeshpur 9 in Dadeldhura. His words sum up the fate of the majority of people in the food deficit districts of the country.

Malla knows very well his family of eight would go hungry were it not for his two sons, who have been toiling in the Indian sun for the last eight years. His seven ropanies of rocky land can hardly feed the family for more than three months a year. Other families in the village fare no better. Almost all have at least one of their male family members working in India.

In village parlance, now is the time between the first peach blossoms until the trees give fruit, when they pray no one comes to their homes as guests.

It is not that people go entirely without food. People will say they haven't had food for days. Upon closer questioning it emerges that they have different ideas about what constitutes food. "Of course I didn't eat any food for days. I ate millet bread," says Junkiri  BK, 60. But food is scarce and for the people here, not having rice as a staple is just the same as going hungry. Millet is what they call a 'low food', and its cultivation has gone down by half. "How can we eat millet for food, we are Thakuris, what will people say?" asks Gorakh.

As the days pass, even millet bread is hard to come by. But people will not admit to eating yam and gruel because that is even worse. Thirty Dalit households here do not have a square foot of land in their possession other than what's taken up by their tiny homes. Since they do not have land to cultivate and rely on wage labour in the homes of upper castes for food, they are the most affected by food shortages.

There are also no irrigation facilities in the village, all farming is rain fed, and improved seed and farming techniques are unheard of. People farm the same way their forefathers did hundreds of years back, and are ill-equipped to deal with the prolonged droughts and frequent natural disasters that have bedeviled the region and contributed to low agricultural production.

Dadeldhura is one of 30 districts that receive food assistance from the government, with 11 of its VDCs classified as food insecure. There is no doubt that without subsidised food, many families in even worse-off districts like Bajura would not make it. But how long do government and donor agencies plan on tackling the problem through immediate relief? Where are the complementary programs to increase agricultural produce by constructing irrigation canals, to promote use of fertilisers and improved and drought resistant seed varieties, and increase farmers' access to the market? Where are the programs to promote the cultivation and consumption of locally suitable crops?

All our government seems to be concerned about is finding funds for food supply and this, too, is problematic. Food supply to 22 districts in the mid and far western region was halted a month ago owing to a funding shortfall for transportation. So food has been sitting in government warehouses. Ram Chandra Bhatta, Technical Assistant at the District Agricultural Office, Dadeldhura, says that there will be a food deficit of 15,000 metric tonnes in the district this year.

Time is running out. By monsoon, most of the hill roads will be impassable and food will have to be transported by air. The expense will be far greater than the Rs 200 million the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies is demanding now. But those lobbying for hefty supply commissions may have a better idea why the budget isn't being passed before the rains arrive.

Inevitably, more young men will have to travel to India in search of work while their fields lie barren back home. Their families will be forced to purchase rice on credit from unscrupulous dealers. No doubt, rice is a lucrative business for everyone concerned – except for those who most need it.

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1. Arthur
Congratulations on publishing one article that talks about the actual status quo that must be ended in Nepal instead of denouncing the Maoists for fighting to end it.



2. jhyau_chor
Thank you for writing this article. I feel that the issues addressed in this article (food security, agricultural development) are the most important ones in Nepal and yet are completely neglected by almost everyone. Given the low-level of agricultural technology (especially irrigation) in Nepal, it would be relatively inexpensive to increase productivity a great deal but someone has to actually care enough to make some efforts in this direction.

Arthur, as for the Maoists, they too never talk about such issues. They prefer to stick to pointless rhetoric on foreign imperial powers, civilian supremacy, providing military education, etc. Besides, their heroes (Mao, Lenin, Stalin) always followed a policy of taxing agriculture to develop industry and it is unlikely that other than dogmatically repeating their red books, the Maoists have every really thought about agricultural policy in a serious way. Of course, the other parties are also useless in this respect.


3. pasl
this whole fiasco is direct result of ngo-tantra in the country. when local produce deliberately undermined, such result is bound to follow.
see more here -
नक्कली भोकमरी
http://humli.blogspot.com/2010/04/blog-post_23.html



4. Arthur
jhyay_chor #2, we are agreed on your first paragraph (and the article itself).

As to the second paragraph, people talking about the Maoists never talk about these issues. If you don't actually listen to the Maoists themselves, but only to what others say about them, then naturally you will not know what the Maoist policy on agriculture is. Less naturally you may also believe what the others tell you the Maoists would do about agriculture - ie empty rhetoric and stupid ideas. This is less natural because you already know that the others are useless, and presumably also know that they are liars.

Here is the Maoist policy on "Agriculture and Forest", from their election commitment:
1. Nepal is rich in terms of water, land and bio-diversity, majority of the people are dependent on the agricultural sector and relative profit is derived from agricultural industries. That's why, it shall be a chief priority of the new Nepal to make radical changes in the sector of subsistence agriculture and transform it into professional agriculture.
2. First, revolutionary land reform shall be put into practice. In agriculture feudal land-relationship and absentee landlords shall be abolished. Free land shall be distributed to actual tillers, tenants, freed Kamaiyas, landless farmers and poor farmers. Different limitations shall be set and enforced in the Tarai, hills and mountains. Small farmers shall be organized in the co-operatives. (Farmers) shall be encouraged to cultivate in a modern manner, diversify crops and professionalize farming. By making a provision to levy charge on barren agricultural land, everyone shall be motivated to increase production.
3. By cultivating necessary consumer goods for internal use in specific areas of the country, (people) shall be motivated to export extraordinary and expensive agricultural goods of high quality, less weight and less volume with comparative and competitive profit (such as, offseason vegetables, fruits like raspberry, bayberry, male etc. high quality aromatic honey, birds like wild rooster, wild fowl, pheasant, milk and cheese from herb eating yaks, fish from Chisopani, rice from Chisopani, Himali herbs like Yarchagumba and Panchaule) in the remaining regions. Agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture and fishery shall be developed as an industry in a unified manner.
4. Implementation after special planning shall be done for irrigation throughout the year in high plains of mid-hill, inner Madhes and the Tarai. Factories shall be established in the country to produce fertilizers (manure) and agricultural tools. Agriculture and Forest University shall be established for skilled agricultural human resources.
5. The market and storehouse for agricultural products and farm roads and cold storage network shall be established. A special programme shall be implemented to provide farmers the minimum (agreed) value of production.
6. Forest and herb shall be cultivated in most of the regions of the country base don suitability to biodiversity, besides in the plains of the Tarai and mid-hills, and shall be developed as a national industry. This shall executed by making land-utilization plans for the entire country. It shall be implemented by making detailed plans for river control and soil conservation.
7. Apart from agricultural development bank, land development banks, mini and household development banks shall be established. The loans of landless and small farmers shall be exempted. The interest on loans shall be exempted for a medium (level) peasant.
8. Special attention shall be given to maintain ecological balance and the activities contrary to it shall be strictly prevented. The use of biological and compost fertilizers shall be encouraged instead of chemical fertilizers and insecticide.
Is that "empty rhetoric" or "taxing agriculture to develop industry"?

Anything else wrong with it?

The Nepali version is available from same web site as above link. It also has the other parties election commitments - which are indeed just "empty rhetoric" (while their real policy is to take money from donors intended for development to benefit themselves).






5. Slarti

#4, again, this is a wish list. What is the mechanism by which land would be redistributed?

 

(With reference to points 1 and 2)

Everybody knows that Nepal is rich in its biodiversity, and everybody seeks to transform it into professional agriculture, the question is how is that to be done according to you? What type of absentee landlords would be abolished, what limit shall be applied for absentee's and on what basis would that limit be applied? What would be the basis of determining limitations on land across different geographies? That farmers should be encouraged to cultivate in a modern manner, that they should diversify crops and that farming should be professionalized is fine, but how? For uncultivated land, how would the levy be determined?

 (With reference to point 3)

 

What are necessary consumer goods? Who determines what they are? Which specific areas should produce them and on what basis should they accept that responsibility? How is "high quality” to be determined? What are extraordinary agricultural goods? Of all the products mentioned in the bracket, how do you ensure that farmers utilize their land and space to produce just those? What does development in a "unified manner" mean?

 (With reference to point 4)

 

 What would form the basis of "special planning" and how is it different for just planning? How would the funding mechanism of irrigation channels be designed? Would the government print money, would it raise debt, or would the government order people to build it by providing free labor? The factories to be established, should be established where and following what strategy? How would that production facility function and where would such a production facility get its funding from? Where would these agricultural university's be established? Are the existing facilities not sufficient? What sort skills gaps are there which need to be filled by starting agricultural university's? With the establishment for agricultural universities would faculties such as engineering, sciences, arts and other facilities receive funding at the same or higher level? How would that funding function?

(With reference to point 5)

 

 How would the market be established, instead of develop? Who would establish these farm markets and what would be the basis of their functioning? Who would determine the levels of profits for that market? For the special program – How would you establish the "agreed" minimum?

 (With reference to point 6, 7 and 8)

 

For forest and herb cultivation, who would determine the suitability? What happens to staple food production? If this is developed as a national industry, what happens to others? How does this industry earn its surplus, on what basis? Would this produce be for international markets only? Who makes the land-utilization (sic) plans for the entire country? What would be the implementation mechanism for that plan? Who would make the – financial and social – compensation to farmers affected if the plan does not deliver? Why and on what basis would rivers be controlled? Does this include making large dams? On what basis would those dams be made? The revenue the power produced can generate? Or, would that be based on power and irrigation "needs" of the people? How do you raise the funding in either case? Where dams are to be developed how is the environmental cost, loss of land, and potentially relocation costs to be calculated? That special attention is to be given is fine, what is the mechanism by which that attention would be practiced?

The thing that is wrong with is that your plan is empty rhetoric, that there is no mechanism mentioned, that the rest of your document is equally filled with the same kind of empty rhetoric.

 

Given the cost that you have been to this country - a wish list devoid of any substance is not worth that cost.

 

There are many many more questions that come to everybody's mind. One would like to ask it, but given your earlier responses it is fruitless to hope, but one must persist.



6. Arthur
Slarti, first congratulations on entering into serious debate in #5. Although your tone is hostile and dismissive, many of your questions are relevant and deserve better answers than I can give right now.

Of course I cannot speak as to what the answers of the UCPN(Maoist) would be. I can only give my own opinions as to what should be done about these issues. In most cases I do not have a definite opinion as I do not know enough about Nepal, nor about agriculture. To save space, please treat all my comments below as though they begin with "I think" or "My guess is" or "Perhaps".

I will group and rearrange your questions with Q numbers for convenience and quote relevant parts of the Maoist election commitment from part III with the section numbers, including repetition of the sections of the agriculture and forest policy, section C2, quoted in #4 that your questions refer to.

On your general point that actual implementation mechanisms and processes are required, not just as "wishlist", I agree. An election manifesto is necessarily a "wishlist". The Maoist election commitment is already far too long and it would be absurd to have attempted to provide answers to such details in the same document. The actual election battle for votes is fought mainly around simple slogans and especially the most popular one "We have given all the others a chance. This time lets give the Maoists a chance".

That simple slogan is not just empty rhetoric, but the key to your questions. The old Nepal is incapable of answering such questions - it has been tried and failed.

In most cases the answers will have to be worked out over time in actual practice and in consultation with many different stakeholders, and will vary with the concrete conditions in different places. Most of the Maoist manifesto is devoted to the necessary restructuring of the state and social and cultural transformation of Nepal that is needed to create the conditions in which functional implementation mechanisms and processes for the economic policies of part III.C become possible. This includes parts I, II, III.A, III.B and III.D.

In particular actual implementation requires a transfer of power in the rural areas from landlords, bureaucrats and NGOs who are simply not interested in solving such problems and can only produce speeches and "reports", while draining development funds, to people's organizations led by the workers and peasants who actually stand to gain from implementing these policies.

Unfortunately we are now at the end of the week and another edition of Nepali Times will be out soon. I have spent a couple of hours preparing a response with numbered quotes and questions, but it would take longer to complete it and you would not be able to respond before the next edition comes out and nobody else would read what we say once the link disappears from the front page. So I will have to stop here.

If there is another article in next week's Nepali Times in which a detailed point by point response on these issues would be relevant I will be happy to provide one where others can read and respond. Meanwhile I can only repeat that I do acknowledge that many of your questions are relevant and serious and apologize for not being able to complete a response in time. I do hope we can continue later.



7. Deepak

We have had rice undersupply (not food in general) in western Nepal for over a generation now - and during this time, credit to the people involved, different approaches have been tried although none have been entirely successful. My mother worked in Humla for 7 years and I have a first hand knowledge of how difficult it is to get rice up there. As other commenters have done, I do not agree that the maoists, or any other government for that matter, can change things drastically.

The agricultural election committments of the maoists put forward by Arthur does indeed look like a rheotric, because Nepal, with its financial limitations, would struggle to meet all these committments in the medium to long term, let alone short-term, and the food problems being experienced in far-western region is current. Current problems require immediate and swift action, not political manifestos without proper financial backing.

Instead of implementing more expensive approaches towards transporting more rice to the region or trying to get the people to cultivate cash-crops, perhaps educational campaigns to shift the staple diet from rice to what can be grown locally is what we need to do. Barley and millet are as good a staple food as rice in terms of nutrition, if not better.

 



8. Arthur
Deepak, the article says clearly:

"There is no doubt that without subsidised food, many families in even worse-off districts like Bajura would not make it. But how long do government and donor agencies plan on tackling the problem through immediate relief? Where are the complementary programs to increase agricultural produce by constructing irrigation canals, to promote use of fertilisers and improved and drought resistant seed varieties, and increase farmers' access to the market? Where are the programs to promote the cultivation and consumption of locally suitable crops?"

Obviously nobody can disagree that current and swift action is needed to prevent starvation. But the old Nepal cannot even deliver that, the current government cannot even organize transport of emergency food aid supplied by donors!!!

You say:

"The agricultural election committments of the maoists put forward by Arthur does indeed look like a rheotric, because Nepal, with its financial limitations, would struggle to meet all these committments in the medium to long term, let alone short-term, and the food problems being experienced in far-western region is current. Current problems require immediate and swift action, not political manifestos without proper financial backing."

That is so typical of the old Nepal mindset that results in this mess. You oppose medium and long term proposals for hard and difficult work to actually resolve problems but call for "immediate and swift action" while remaining incapable of any action at all.

Then you say:

"Instead of implementing more expensive approaches towards transporting more rice to the region or trying to get the people to cultivate cash-crops, perhaps educational campaigns to shift the staple diet from rice to what can be grown locally is what we need to do. Barley and millet are as good a staple food as rice in terms of nutrition, if not better."

Of course!!! And first you need to employ "educated" people in KTM to hold seminars about their "educational campaigns" to explain to poor people that it is too "expensive" for them to even live on daal bhat - they must now live on Millet!

Instead of "let them eat cake" when told that the French people had none of their staple food. You propose "let us teach them to eat grass".


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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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