Improving Nepal's Agriculture (Speech)

Keynote Speech of the Ambassador at the seminar 'Improving Nepal's Agricultural Productivity through Innovation Technologies', Brussels, 11 June 2014

Dr.  Frank Heemskerk, CEO, Research and Innovation Management Services (RIMS), and Advisory Board Member, EIAS

Dr. Sylvie de Buck, Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach, Ghent University

Mr. Nirmal Raj Kafle, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nepal

Mr. Prabhat Khanal, University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medicinal Sciences

Mr. Subas Neupane, Aarhus University

Excellencies and distinguished participants!

A very good afternoon to you all!

On behalf of the Embassy of Nepal in Brussels, and on my own, I thank you all for showing interest in Nepal by joining this workshop today.

I thank EIAS for organizing this seminar in collaboration with the Embassy, one of its kind to mark the occasion of the successful completion of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Belgium. I appreciate Mr. Goethals for promptly arranging this event. I thank with much appreciation Dr. Heemskerk, the chair of this event and Dr. Buck, Mr. Kafle, Mr. Khanal and Mr. Neupane, the panellists for today's discussion, on their valuable time and contribution to this workshop.

First of all, I would like to briefly introduce Nepal for the distinguished participants. Nepal is a unique and diverse country in South Asia located between two huge and rapidly growing Asian economies, China and India. With the territory of 147,181 sq km, and the population 28 million, the GDP of the country at present is $18 billion and per capita income is $ 700 . Nepal is one of the least developed countries endowed with natural resources. In the country, the city area has modern economy whereas the rural area, where 80% of the population lives, is mostly dependent on subsistence agriculture.

Nepal is primarily an agricultural country with around 65% of total population depending on agriculture which contributes to 35% of national gross domestic product (GDP). Nevertheless, Nepal struggles to produce an adequate supply of food for its citizens. Although a major contributor to the economy, agriculture remains subsistence and traditional. Farmers have limited access to improved seeds, new technologies, and market opportunities. This low rate of agricultural production has depressed rural economies and even increased the challenge of food security in Nepal.  

In recent years, sluggish agricultural production growth has not kept up with growth in population and increasing demand. The alarming food insecurity is also due to a protracted peace process and political instability, a succession of natural disasters, food price inflation, and limited capacity to manage food shocks, poor food access, and a lack of technological backup and of irrigation facilities. Therefore, there is a real need for a strategy to strengthen food security in rural Nepal by enhancing local productivity and resources.

Despite these difficulties, there are many opportunities for enhanced agricultural production in Nepal. Agricultural development is not only the foundation for food security and sustainable development in Nepal but also a platform for the national economy to kickstart. It is because it is the major source of income and employment in most of the rural parts of Nepal. Agriculture is the base of a rising national economy whereas the industry sector is the catalyst to drive national economy. Therefore, the national economy can not leapfrog to higher level unless we can develop agriculture into a productive sector of our economy. Recognising this, the government of nepal has made agricultural development a priority. The government has felt the need of innovation in the agricultural sector for economic development of the country.

The sustainable development of Nepal strongly depends upon the sustainable development of agriculture sector. Due to the diverse climatic conditions and topography of the country, Nepal has the potentiality of harnessing agricultural products of various kinds. The topography of Nepal range from the fertile terai plains in the south of the country to the rising elevations of the mid hills and the northern Himalayan range. Within the midhills are the valleys and river basins. This diversity of topography is well accompanied by the climatic conditions of tropical climate in the south to tundra climate in the North. Nepal is a mini world in itself in terms of its geographic and climatic variety. This diverse range of landscape boasting of varieties of climatic conditions from tropical to tundra and corresponding wide range of flora and fauna.

Livestock production and crop farming are the two important sub-sectors of Nepalese agriculture. It is in these sectors of Nepalese economy we need to focus on for sustainable development of rural areas. Although Nepalese agriculture has various possibilities of agricultural development including production of medicinal herbs, horticulture, fruits farming, production of oil seeds and essential oils, crop farming and livestock production have been the basic and the most important sector of agriculture in Nepal. 

In spite of having suitable (and diverse) agro-climatic conditions and availability of natural resources for livestock, agronomical and horticultural  production, the country  has not been able to utilize those resources in an efficient manner and today Nepal is still considered as one of the poorest countries in the world. Sustainable agricultural development can highly contribute to the development of the economy of Nepal. This increased productivity not only leads to food security and self-sufficiency in agricultural production but this also can lead to the wave of economic growth of the country.

But this increase in agricultural production can only be obtained through effective transfer of knowledge and modern technology. As livestock sub-sector alone contributes to about 30% of total agricultural GDP, increased productivity of livestock sub-sector could be achieved by introducing improved breeds and modern production technologies which ultimately leads to commercialization of livestock production system. For the crop production, efforts need to be made on quality seed production, mainly vegetable seeds, and specific to different climatic zones which help to achieve sustainable and increased productivity. This can only be obtained through inclusion of varietal development through research programs and through involvement of farmers in seed multiplication. 

It is in these regards, we look up to the European economies like Belgium and the Netherlands that have excelled in agricultural innovation and technology for finding ways to transfer such innovation and technology in agriculture to Nepalese agriculture. This does not necessarily mean the transfer of the same innovation and technology. Rather, it is the transfer of technology and innovation that is appropriate and suitable to Nepalese agriculture.

The Government of Nepal is committed to improving the productivity of agriculture sector by means of inviting modern innovation and technology in the field of agriculture. The government wants to lift the subsistence Nepalese agriculture sector to a highly professional agriculture sector. Nepal Agriculture Policy, 2004 and Agro Business Policy, 2006 have laid the policy level foundation to this goal. What we still need is the real beginning of innovation technologies.

This is why we have organized this workshop. The discussion we are going to have today will definitely contribute to Nepal's need of innovation and technology for increased agricultural productivity. I would also like to take this opportunity to request the local agricultural entrepreneurs to see the possibilities of collaborating with Nepalese agriculture sector in bettering Nepalese agricultural production. Your know-how and technology will definitely boost Nepalese agriculture.

My mission in Brussels will accord best possible assistance in your interest and investment endeavours in Nepal.

I sincerely request you all to actively participate in the seminar. I am confident that you will all enjoy today's discussion. I am hopeful that the program will be successful and fruitful too.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Thank you.