Food for thought

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The right to adequate food is recognised in various international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (Article 11). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (1948) states that everyone has the right to an adequate life with good health and well being of oneself and his/her family, including food, clothing and housing. As Nepal is also a member of the UN and a party to the ICESCR, ensuring the right to food for Nepali citizens through implementation of the commitment on those international instruments is a state. But let’s take a deeper look what Nepal has done thus far to meet these requirements in terms of  policy documents and gaps.

The government has made increasing efforts, especially in the past decade, to adopt policies appropriate to addressing food insecurity problems, particularly through the Agricultural Perspective Plan (APP) (1997-2017) and the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002). The APP stresses priority inputs (irrigation, agricultural roads, fertiliser and agricultural technology) to achieve priority outputs i.e. increased production of fruits, vegetables, livestock, forestry and promotion of agri-business, in the process increasing both the level of resource availability and the efficiency of resources.

However, APP was never really implemented. No investment has been made and private sector involvement is not encouraging. Studies have revealed the poor performance of APP as a result of inadequate investment, problems in concept and design and organisational weaknesses.

Nevertheless, Nepal’s agricultural policy has been profoundly guided by APP. But the APP has insufficient mention of food security which does not address the complexity of its various dimensions as they have appeared in recent times.

Similarly, the 10th Periodic Plan (2002-2007) has mentioned supporting food nutrition security through raising agricultural production and productivity, and increasing incomes and reducing poverty. But there was no specific strategy and programme to address food and nutrition security which is primarily associated to food production and making food available. The National Agricultural Policy (2004) added various provisions for marginalised and vulnerable groups having less than half a hectare of land to improve food security. It has also made stipulations to create food storage provisions, a mobilisation network on a local participatory basis and to develop food and nutrition safety nets for poor farmers.

Food Sovereignty has been recognised in the interim Constitution of Nepal under Article 8 (3) which deals with the fundamental rights of the people. It recognises food sovereignty along with employment, shelter, health and education as the basic rights of people to be established in the policy framework of the state of Nepal. Accordingly, this provision of the Interim Constitution is reflected in the Three Years Interim Plan (TYIP) (2007/08-2009/10). Though the Plan introduced a long term vision on food security for the first time in the history of the plans, no essential programme has been designed to implement the policy. Under TYIP, various aspects of food and nutritional security are to be strengthened through proper conservation and management of natural resources accompanied by sustainable agricultural production, equitable distribution, increased employment opportunities, increased quality of food products and reduced vulnerability of disadvantaged population.

The plan intended to establish a food security section and information centre under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoAC). Three years passed and another interim plan is ongoing, and yet nothing has materialised still. The formulation of the food sovereignty act mentioned in the TYIP has also not happened.

The second TYIP (2010/11-2012/13) has also included a separate section for food and nutrition security. But the lack of proper coordination between the two interim plans can be seen clearly as it has not prolonged the policies and programmes ensured by the first TYIP. It aims to increase the contribution of agriculture on food and nutritional security, employment creation and poverty reduction. The second TYIP has a set target to increase the production of food crops from 7,762,000 MT to 9,633,000 MT. This target can be achieved only if the monsoon favours it. In the last fiscal year, food production increased by 11 percent on average. As a result, the overall food production seems to have created surplus with reserves of 110,000 tonnes against the food deficit of 330,000 tonnes and 132,000 tonnes in the fiscal years 2009/10 and 2008/09 respectively.

The government has not provided sufficient resources to implement the policy and programmes mentioned in the plan. For instance, MoAC has a Rs 12.53 billion budget for the current fiscal year against the projection of Rs 15 billion set in the plan. During the second period, the TYIPit needs to be allocated Rs 44.99 billion rupees for the ministry, which is not likely to be fulfilled.

Even if the yearly budget announces a few programmes regarding food security, achievements are far-flung due to lack of implementation. The government has been announcing the provision for subsidy in organic fertiliser as well as chemical fertiliser for the last three years but farmers did not benefit as the MoAC could not bring a clear cut directive and guidelinesfor implementation. Likewise, another proclamation to charge fines if fertile lands are not used for production in the budget programme of 2009/10 was also not implemented. In the last fiscal year’s budget, it was further stated that a new Land Use Policy would be introduced. But, due to lack of effective coordination among line ministries, the government failed to assure its materialisation. The current year budget has targeted its formation within mid-October of 2011.

Compared to previous years, the government has given priority to food and nutrition security in this fiscal year’s budget programme. It has set an ambitious target to be self-reliant in food and agriculture products within the next three years with the slogan of “Increase Production and Be Self-Reliant” to ensure food and nutrition security. It has also aimed to formulate and implement the “Food and Nutrition Plan.”

The government has also introduced a provision of allocating at least 15 per cent of resources to agriculture related activities out of the total grant received by each village development committee. Subsidies for chemical and organic fertilisers have been allocated Rs 3 billion against the Rs 2.75 billion of the last fiscal year. Likewise, Rs 30 million has been allocated for subsidies in the purchase of seeds of high yielding varieties. Under the food crisis response programme, fertilizer, seed transportation and irrigation facilities in 23 high and mid hills districts have been pledged.

Writer:-Maina Dhital






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