Food grain output will be doubled to 20 million tonnes in five years, the government said in its budget statement presented to Parliament on Tuesday. The plan also aims to double farmer incomes.
Experts said the goal of doubling grain production in half a decade was ‘impossible’ against a backdrop of shrinking farm land due to rapid urbanization and commercial land plotting that has spilled over to the villages.
“Obviously, it’s an unrealistic goal,” said agro expert Hari Dahal. And why is it unrealistic? Dahal, a former government secretary, said the goal of doubling output was unrealistic in a country where agriculture is rain-fed and a regular supply of chemical fertilizer is not guaranteed.
“There are no farm labourers. The soil health is poor. Farm incomes are very low. Only one-third of the cultivated land has round the year irrigation facility,” he said, adding that addressing these issues would take decades. Another crucial issue is urbanization and land plotting which is eating up fertile fields.
“On the optimistic side, if a climate-smart agriculture system and farm mechanization is adopted, the goal can be attainable to some extent,” he said. While Dahal’s focus remains on increased use of hybrid seeds and fertilizers to boost output, there is another school of thought which advocates a sustainable agriculture system. Sustainable agriculture emphasizes on producing food with minimum use of chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds. The budget has accorded priority to organic production. The government’s annual financial plan has allocated Rs40.14 billion for the development of the agriculture sector with a focus on raising farm output and improving food security.
To make effective implementation of the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project, the government has allocated a budget of Rs4.77 billion for the next fiscal year. The government has decided to set up model agriculture farms in all seven provinces. To encourage sugarcane farming, the government has decided to provide subsidies to cane farmers based on their production.
The budget has earmarked funds to establish an agricultural tools and machinery company to boost farm mechanization. The government will continue the minimum support price (MSP) fixing policy in the next fiscal year. Although the policy was introduced four years ago, it has not been implemented. The budget has announced fixing the MSP on paddy, wheat, sugarcane and other products.
This fiscal year, a high-level advisory body of the Ministry of Agriculture had recommended a 9 percent increase in the floor price for paddy. The recommendation was sent to the Supplies Ministry, the executing body, last September. However, it was not implemented.
A minimum support price is an intervention by the government to protect farmers against sudden slumps in the market price. It is the rate at which the government will buy farm produce if there are no other buyers in the market.
Delivering the federal budget for 2018-19, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada said, “To stop land plotting and haphazard urbanization, the government will table a Land Use Bill at the ongoing budget session of Parliament. The government will introduce laws to stop plotting of irrigated land.”
As usual, the government has pledged to provide irrigation for all agricultural land within five years. “In order to promote solar irrigation, the government has allocated Rs350 million to execute a number of projects,” said Khatiwada. The government has decided to install weather radar stations in Palpa and Udayapur to provide realistic climate information to farmers. They will make week-long climate forecasts and reduce climate-stress risks.