‘Nepal is primarily an agricultural country.’ This statement is not new for us. Thanks to our education, we have internalized this statement since the early days of our school education. However, this statement is just limited to words and the present condition of low agricultural productivity shows the reality of the worrisome status of the agricultural sector of Nepal. More than two third majorities of Nepalis are involved in this sector as their main source of livelihood but the subsistence mode of production has not been able to ensure food self-sufficiency in the country. As a result, we have been heavily reliant on food imports from India and some of the major products imported include rice, corn, wheat, onion etc. According to the records of the Department of Customs, Nepal has imported agricultural goods of Rs. 323.66 billion in 2020/21 which has increased by 55 billion up to Rs 378.60 billion in 2021/22. The main reason for low agricultural productivity is lack of timely and adequate access to agricultural inputs such as year-round irrigation facility, fertilizers and quality seeds.
Timely availability of seeds is one of the pre-requisites for the high agricultural productivity that can alone contribute 15-20 percent increase in output levels. It is important for a country to become seed-secured to ensure food security in the country. Seed security refers to a situation where farmers in the country have access to quality seeds at the right time and at a reasonable price which seems to be lacking in Nepal. The current market trend shows that use of hybrid seed is high in demand due to increasing pressure for high crop production to achieve food security. According to the report published by Mordor Intelligence, the increase in population, rapid urbanization and skyrocketing land prices have led to the decrease in agricultural land over the last decade. This has created the pressure of increasing agricultural output against the finite land resources.
Addressing the concerns like inadequate availability and access to high quality source seeds, and many more, Government of Nepal has come up with National Seed Vision (2013-2025). The main objective of this policy is to promote local seed security through self-sufficiency, import substitution and export promotion of quality seeds. Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) 2015-2035 is another national sectoral strategy of Nepal with objectives such as increased food security, poverty reduction, competitiveness, higher and more equitable income of rural households and strengthened farmer’s rights. It has pinpointed the government as the key leading actor among others, including private sector, cooperative sector, NGOs, leading farmers etc in facilitating implementation of policies and plans, enforcing regulations, and monitoring performances of other actors. Both National Seed Vision and ADS have incorporated directives for all stakeholders that include public, private, and community sectors as its strategy to create a competitive environment for seed production in the country.
ADS has aimed for higher productivity as one of its outcomes and has targeted increasing the volume of food production in the country through sustainable use of natural resources and reducing the vulnerability of farmers through improved food/feed/seed reserves. This is where subsidy in seeds comes into play and the Government of Nepal has graciously adhered to the responsibility of providing subsidized seeds to the farmers. Even though ADS has aimed to phase out subsidy policy slowly through periodic review of its subsidy policy, most of the farmers are still heavily reliant on such provisions to acquire quality seeds. However, the problem with such provisions is that complicated procurement procedures under public procurement act create difficulty in timely supply of seeds in season. On the other hand, subsidy on seed is confined to major cereals like paddy and wheat and the program which targets small and marginal farmers of remote areas is not accessible to them due to problems like lack of transport facility and difficult terrain. Moreover, Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) is the only institution responsible for varietal development and production of breeder and foundation seeds. The sole supplier and source of breeder seeds, NARC along with National Seed Company Ltd, is not able to meet the demands for seeds in remote places where market does not reach. The main reasons for low production are the high cost of seed production and processing, the limited reach of mechanization and low use of conservation agriculture practices like minimum soil disturbance, crop diversification through rotation, among others. As a result, most of the country’s supply of seeds comes from imports.
Rwanda was committed to boosting the agriculture sector. So it invested greatly in infrastructure, inclusive markets while creating an environment that allowed private sectors to invest as well. Nepal may follow its footsteps.
Coming to the contribution of private sectors, more than 80 percent seed is supplied by the private sector in Nepal. Despite producing local species of seeds within the country, they are still bound to bring hybrid ones from abroad. The problem with private sectors is that it’s easier for them to acquire dealerships from foreign seed companies and import them to the country instead of taking in the hassle of setting up research and development labs in the country. Adding to this, the imported seeds from the private sector have to compete with the subsidized seeds of the government sector. So, in order to compete with price, they are bound to bring low quality seeds from abroad which will eventually hamper the yields of farmers.
Another party responsible in seed production of Nepal are cooperatives which are backed up by NGOs. These cooperatives that work on grassroots levels, facilitate farmers in seed production and the produced seeds are then collected and marketed. One of the recent successful stories of such sectors has been the initiative undertaken by the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CIPRED) that formed various farmers groups and launched vegetable and vegetable seed production programs. Through this, cooperatives like Janakalyan Farmer’s Cooperative Organization were able to collect the seeds through 38 farmers’ groups and export those seeds to 39 other districts of the country and with this the cooperative has been able to raise its income to 20.36 million in the fiscal year 2020/21. All this has enabled Surkhet, which was once reliant on imported seeds, to transform itself into a seed production block area for the organic production of seeds. However, the problem of marketing due to lack of separate marketing entities might create some hurdles for the supply of produced seeds in this sector. Since the seeds are produced by the community members, the window of innovation for new varieties might be inadequate which might create possible problems.
It is evident that all these sectors, public, private and community organizations are equally important for the contribution of seed production in the country. The contribution from all sectors will make Nepal self-sufficient in seeds that will eventually ensure food security in the country which has been the main agenda of the policies like ADS and National Seed Vision. Understanding this, the government’s guidelines and policies have incorporated measures to create synergy among these sectors to implement an efficient seed system in the country. However, there seems to be a gap in the government’s effort to create a suitable environment for private and community sectors to enter into the seed market.
Just like ADS has pointed out, the Government of Nepal has a very important role to play but we must understand that this supremacy does not mean the government has to bear the responsibility of the only seed provider in the country. It rather creates a burden on the government and it will eventually fail to meet its target and as a result the farmers will not get seeds at the right time that will disturb the production pattern. Instead the government should focus on incorporating private and community sectors and create a competitive environment with business culture for seed production. In an attempt to do so, it should ease the registration process of new companies and allow different assets to be used as collateral for small and medium scale entrepreneurs. In regards to strengthening the community sector, collaborations might help in the marketing of locally produced seeds by connecting them with marketing institutions and through investments in seed related infrastructure. One of the successful examples of such collaboration in the agriculture sector is that of Rwanda where agriculture contributes to 31 percent of GDP and 75 percent of agricultural production actually comes from smallholder farmers. The Government of Rwanda was committed to boosting the sector, so it invested greatly in infrastructure, inclusive markets while creating an environment that allowed private sectors to invest as well. Following the footsteps of Rwanda might help Nepal to be a seed secured country and ensure higher agricultural yield to foster economic growth.
Niyati Shrestha is a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based inKathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization.