On 27th June 2020, a webinar was organized on the theme “Impact of COVID-19 crisis on the agriculture system of Nepal and opportunities for the future food reform” with distinguished agriculture experts of Nepal by SCOLAR Kathmandu Team. The webinar aimed to address the present agriculture structure of Nepal, the situation of commercial and small-scale farmers amidst COVID, along with policies and strategies for future food system reform. The expert panelists consisted of Ms. Sabnam Shivakoti, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Dr. Binayak Prasad Rajbhandari, Founder, and Executive Chairperson of Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology (HICAST), and Dr. Neeranjan Rajbhandari, Country Manager, NIRAS.
The joint secretary mentioned that the Nepalese agriculture system consists of a large number of small-scale farmers who have minimal linkage to the market and therefore are relatively less affected compared to the commercial farmers. Commercial and semi-commercial farmers engaged in dairy, poultry, vegetables, and floriculture were the largest hit subsectors. Reduced demand, disrupted supply chain for inputs and outputs and lack of infrastructures such as cold rooms exacerbated the problem due to COVID lockdown. She addressed that the government is implementing policies to establish a market hub, storage, and cold room facilities at municipalities and dedicated farmers’ markets to connect the producers and consumers to reduce layers of intermediaries along with specific COVID recovery programs. Joint Secretary, Shivakoti said, “COVID Crisis can be seen as an opportunity for the agriculture sector as it has received due attention from a wider circle and it has created opportunities for young migrant returnees. Engagement of youth such as the SCOLAR Kathmandu Team could play a vital role”.
Dr. Binayak Rajbhandari points out that there is a requirement of land (on lease), capital (low-interest loan, no-interest loan) and technical skill (training) to employ the large influx of youth migrant workers in the agriculture sector. Also, cultivation and exporting of high-value crops such as organic tea, coffee, and ginger could be holistic transformational strategies in some region of the nation to empower local farmers markets and value chain relationship.
Dr. Neeranjan argued that doing the same thing over and over again for past 40 years cannot bring change. The subsidy should be focused on where there is scope for niche premium value products and maximum comparative advantage. For subsistence farmers, since subsidy did not reach there or it was not effective in the past, direct monetary support is the way to go to keep the system organic rather than pushing chemical fertilizer there through subsidy.
COVID-19 has halted all endeavors of the world. In the future, the Nepal agriculture sector could play an essential role in the improvement of livelihood of many stakeholders and the domestic food supply of the nation. Therefore, new policies and scaling-out strategies from the Government could bring an economic boom in the country if played out well. “We, at SCOLAR network, want to bring more of such discussion in various other topics connecting youths of Nepal and all SCO nations.” says, Shikha Thapa Magar, a Ph.D. candidate at Hebei Agricultural University and team leader of Kathmandu SCOLAR Team. We have been using this platform to bring out vital issues of Nepal and have organized events like deep-dive in, training and discussion clubs related to COVID-19 pandemic, women empowerment, and skill development”.
SCO Countries Youth Platform (SCOLAR Network) is a platform aimed at bringing together young leaders from 18 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries to strengthen connectivity, promote dialogue, and contribute to regional development. SCOLAR Kathmandu is one of the many SCOLAR teams and the only foreign team outside China. We are building a network hub in Kathmandu to bring together Nepali youth leaders and provide a similar youth platform to target these young people while maintaining the spirit of the Scolar Network.