The agricultural sector in eastern Nepal is in dire straits on the face of the corona pandemic. As the lockdown prolongs, production and distribution are affected, and hundreds of thousands of farmers and traders fear severe financial distress. The resulting slowdown in production and supplies is set to result in long-term shortage of agro products in Province 1.
While consumers don’t find vegetables to buy, farmers are compelled to let their produce rot in the farms. Nobody comes to pick them, and the farmers have no means to deliver them to vegetable shops. “We expected the market to open soon. But the situation only got worse after Covid-19 cases were reported in Udayapur district,” says Navin Chandravanshi, a farmer at Baraha Kshetra, Sunsari. “One trader came and bought just two sacks of vegetables, while the vegetables in the farm worth some Rs 200,000 rotted.”
Vegetable prices have gone up too. Traders who buy directly from farmers sell bought vegetables at significant mark-ups. Before the lockdown, traders used to come to Chandravanshi’s farm to pick vegetables. He thinks it would be good for both the farmers and the consumers if vegetables can be sold directly to consumers instead of involving middlemen. “But we lack a mechanism to do that,” he says.
Businesses dealing in fertilizers, seeds and other agro supplies are miffed at government indifference in protecting and promoting the agro sector. “The indifference toward farmers is sure to create problems in the long run,” says Gyanendra Parajuli, owner of Sagar Feed Industries. Unable to sell eggs and chicken due to the lockdown, he has been burying 45,000 chicks a week these days. He also claims to be destroying 60,000 eggs per week.
Parajuli anticipates the 22,000 hens in his farm to die in the next 6-7 months. “I have ordered new hens from Thailand and paid for them too. But I am now in no position to import them,” he adds. “The farm will remain closed for about three months at least. By the time the lockdown is over, there will be a sharp drop in the production of chicken and eggs.”
Other poultry farmers share Parajuli’s plight. Many are selling chicken below cost price. “There is shortage of poultry feed, and we cannot even supply chicken that are ready,” says Suresh Basnet, a poultry farmer.
Lack of coordination among the authorities is adding to the farmers’ woes. Parajuli shares, “The government says we can transport our produce. The district administration says we don’t need a vehicle pass. But the policemen on the road keep troubling us.” He fears continued lockdown will shatter the poultry industry.
Not only poultry, other farmers also foresee a crisis in agriculture in the next few months. Farmer Karna Bahadur Karki from Baraha Kshetra, who saw his tomatoes rot on the farm, says, “The crop has rotted. Now we have neither seeds nor fertilizers for the next crop.”
Meanwhile, dairy farmers are also in a bad state. Dairy firms and cooperatives have slashed their purchase by half. Says Baburam Khatri, chairman of Itahari-based Kamadhenu Dairy Cooperative, “The tea shops, restaurants, and bakery shops that consume milk have closed. About 14,000 farmers from six districts who sold us milk are directly hit as we have been compelled to reduce purchase.”