Nepali Times
Land grab


Maoist threats to farmers not to harvest grain, confiscation of land and looting of granaries has spread concern that Nepal's already-precarious food situation may worsen in the coming months.

Across the country, the Maoists are occupying farms taken from absentee landlords or confiscated from political opponents. There is no estimate how much farmland is directly under Maoist control, but reports from across the country this is a nationwide trend. Elsewhere, tillers who used to hand over a part of the harvests to landlords, are now forced to give the produce to local Maoists. Food security experts say this has set off a chain reaction of lower harvests, falling productivity and a general food shortage.

Since the landlords know they won't be able to collect the harvest, they do not invest any more on fertiliser, seeds and other inputs. The tillers or sharecroppers can't afford to make that investment and the Maoists are too busy fighting to help with farming. As a result, productivity is dwindling and adding to the plight of middle and lower-income farmers.

A large number of landowners in western Nepal have abandoned their property and this trend has accelerated after the Maoists descended to the tarai during the post-Dasai harvest season. Many farmers have migrated to India, or to the cities. In the fertile Rajapur region which is an island between two branches of the Karnali, many farmers have simply stopped planting because of Maoist extortion and threats.

Sita Devi Upadhyay, a 51-year-old widow, lost all her land to the Maoists when she could not meet their donation demand. She took a loan of Rs 30,000 to pay them off, but the Maoists wanted more. Now they have taken over her land. Her neighbour, Shankar Tharu, was forced to hand over all his harvest and since he had nothing left to feed his family, he left for India.

Further west in Kailali, the Maoists have confiscated more than 200 hectares of land mostly owned by local political activists and are farming it commune-style. This trend is spreading east. In Sindhupalchok, a Maoist flag flutters on a tree in the property of UML leader Amrit Bohara. "First we were targets of the panchayat government and now we are under attack from the Maoists," Bohara told us in Kathmandu.

In Panchthar, Maoists looted the granary of RPP leader Padma Sunder Lawoti and, after harassing his 80-year-old mother, they looted his house and took away his horses. In Dhankuta, the ancestral home of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, his land and property have been seized. In Morang, the Maoists harvested the entire rice crop of Nepali Congress leader Amod Upadhyay and took it away. In Bhojpur they forced local UML leader Hemraj Rai to hand over one-third of his harvest, but later apologised and returned the grain.

Maoists have not only targeted rich landowners but also poorer farmers who they suspect of being informants, or those who refused to cooperate with them. All this goes against the revolutionary agricultural plan of the Maoist United Revolutionary Peoples' Council that pledges not to confiscate land from farmers and lays out a land-to-the-tiller policy. So far, most farmers targeted by Maoists own less than 10 bigha.

The Maoists justify their action, saying it is against zamindars and capitalists. But it is the middle-income farmers who have suffered the most-the same hardworking Nepali farmers who long ago gave up expecting anything from the government and had built and cultivated their own farms.

With reports by Jhalak Gaire in Nepalganj and Rajendra Nath in Nepalganj

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)