Nepal imported Rs. 28.60 billion worth of rice in the first 11 months of the fiscal year.
Even as various programs are being implemented to boost paddy production, the import bill of rice is rising. In the previous fiscal, rice worth Rs. 26.61 billion was imported from various countries.
In the current fiscal, Nepal produced only 5.62 million tons of rice, an insignificant increase from last year’s 5.5 million. In the past 10 years, various officials, including the prime minister and the agriculture minister, have been announcing self-sufficiency in paddy in the next three to five years. However, due to the non-implementation of plans and policies, more and more rice is being imported every year. Nepalis now have to depend on imported rice throughout the year.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development started a large-scale paddy production program in 15 districts from 2072/73 (2015/2016), expanding to 35 districts in 2073/74. The program aimed to increase her hectare productivity from 3.1 metric tons to 4 metric tons, to no avail.
The ministry also launched a program to promote fine and fragrant grain products in 20 districts from 2014. Under this program, 50 percent subsidy was provided for resource seeds and there was also a subsidy for green manure. Rs. 35 million-Rs. 45 million was annually allocated for this program.
The Prime Minister's Agriculture Modernization Project came into operation from the fiscal 2073/74 (2016/2017) to boost paddy production and reduce imports. Under this project, paddy plantation was divided into 24 blocks, five zones, and one super zone.
In 2017, the government had announced that the country would be self-reliant in paddy within five years. The target was to increase production from 51.51 million tons that year to 86.79 million tons in five years. However, with only one year left to reach the mark, the government has failed to meet that target.
Dozens of government programs have been launched in the last decade to make the country self-reliant in paddy. Paddy is grown on 47.5 percent of the cultivable land in Nepal. Last year, paddy was planted in 1.47 million hectares. Of this, the share of the Tarai region is 70 percent, both in terms of area and production.
“The inflow of remittance has increased the number of people who want to live an urban lifestyle. Consumers prefer aromatic, fine, long-grain rice. Thus the import of such varieties has increased,” says Yogendra Karki, secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture.
According to Karki, a ‘rice mill model’ program has also been launched to increase paddy production. The rice produced under this program will be purchased directly by rice mills at fixed prices. Similarly, a plan has been implemented to develop fine and fragrant varieties of paddy in collaboration with the International Rice Research Center (IRI).
“The results will be visible gradually,” says Karki. “In the next three years, however, we will become an exporter of paddy.”
The ministry has projected six million tonnes of paddy production next year. Nepal’s annual demand is 6.7 million tonnes.