Farming in Nepal has been severely affected by the COVID-19 transmission, enforced lockdown and mandatory physical distancing. Farmers feel devastated as they are unable to harvest and market their products, which have led to a movement to dump milk, vegetables, fruits, chickens, and egg on the road.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development of Nepal has established a digital market and declared a 25 per cent subsidy on the transport of agricultural products, considering the COVID 2019 crisis. Similarly, an initiative of the agriculture ambulance brought in by Province-5 of Nepal for transportation and marketing of agricultural products can prove to be a real life-saver in this pandemic situation. Furthermore, the Government of Nepal has envisioned the preparedness and response plans to COVID-19 for the Fiscal Year 2020/2021.
Recently, the Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU), Chitwan, Nepal, has prepared guidelines for online teaching and declared to adopt such practices. It may be challenging in the Nepalese context, but students, faculties, and staff have expressed their commitment to continue teaching and learning amidst the obstacles.
Moreover, to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, AFU has been producing Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) based hand sanitizer and distributed it to farmers and traders of university neighbouring villages. To meet the challenge of short supply during the lockdown period, the AFU Farm Directorate, with the support of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Project funded by the Gates Foundation, is collecting improved seed of wheat and paddy, and selling them at a reasonable price to seed entrepreneurs.
The youth perspective
An assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on farming is urgently needed in Nepal to explain potential food crisis and propose solutions. Furthermore, the government should promote the use of local and improved seeds. If provinces can ensure marketing by investing in farmers seed production, the current seed dependency on imports would be reduced.
Today, millions of Nepalese, including a large number of young people, who used to work in India and elsewhere, are returning to Nepal. This implies a further increase in the demand for food and work. Loan packages at subsidized rates could spur youth and returnee migrants to be agri-entrepreneurs, which would eventually boost up the local economy and sustain food supply. Food scarcity can be minimized by the promotion and consumption of indigenous and local underutilized crops, which are abundant in Nepal.
It is vital to urgently help set up micro-enterprises, which would prioritize post-harvest technology, such as the production of dry meat, frozen meat, cheese, ghee, and jam jelly to prevent wastage of surplus. The extension advisory system of both university and government need to bring farmers and agriculture experts together in a virtual platform to adopt local agricultural innovations.
Every nation should have its sustained food supply system at the local level to be resilient to any pandemic. Self-reliant and sustainable agriculture that contributes to food and nutrition security is the present need because if the farming is interrupted, there will be consequences more disastrous than the virus itself.
Photo: On-going work during the lockdown in a seed processing unit at AFU, Nepal.