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Rice (Paddy) Day

Issue June 2018

Rice (Paddy) Day

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Nepalis celebrate the Rice Day on the Ashad 15 means the last day of June every year transplanting the rice saplings, singing the season’s songs and then playing with the mud, youths smearing each other with mud, and finally eating the mixture of flattened rice and yogurt. The day is the peak day of the rice-transplanting season. Rice is the main food item for Nepalis. In the past, Nepalis believed they were lucky if they had enough resources to eat rice and meat at the time of the greatest Nepalese festival called Dashain.


Some economists, journalists, and intellectuals have been concerned with the import of rice. They believed that Nepal had been the rice exporter in 1980s and Nepal needed to export rice not to import. The import of rice has cost billions of NPR for the State. However, everybody particularly the folks alarmed by the import of rice worth NPR 25 billion in the recent years needed to know the reasons for importing rice. So, they don’t need to be anxious about the import of rice but they need to see why Nepal has to import so much of rice, and why Nepal could not sustained the tradition of exporting rice.


First, the population of Nepal has doubled during the last 30 years. So, Nepal has twice as many mouths to feed today than in 1980s. We need more food grains than what we had been 30 years ago.


The second thing is Nepalis have been better off than what used to be during the no-party system called Panchayat when most of the folks had to eat whatever available making the rice surplus for the export. Today, they could afford to eat rice; so they preferred to eat rice than a corn dish or a millet dish. Like it or not fathers and grandfathers had to eat corn and millet dishes. Today, most of the corn is used for chicken feeds.


In the past, most of the Nepalis had to wait for the Dashain festival for eating rice and meat. Today, thanks to the republican setup, Nepalis have sufficient food for eating nice rice and meat almost every day. That is one of the main reasons why Nepal needed to import rice.


Some folks might like to question how Nepal could pay for such a huge quantity of imported rice. Millions of Nepalis working abroad have earned sufficient foreign currencies to pay for the import of rice that also not the coarse rice but the fine and nice one. Today, Nepalis prefer to eat fine rice. So, import of fine rice has been increased recently. It is a proxy for measuring the economic prosperity of Nepalis.


Now the question is, why Nepal could export the rice 30 years ago and today Nepal has to import rice worth billions of rupees. Thirty years ago, farmers had to pay almost the entire rice product to the landowner leaving only a small quantity of rice for their sustenance. So, those landowners could sell the rice and the company called Nepal Rice Export Company could export the rice to the neighbor. Most of the time rice came back to Nepal for feeding the people.


The productivity of rice has not grown, as it should have been because the Land Reform Act has been the main obstacle to. Sharecroppers have no incentive to put efforts on producing more rice because they have to share the crop with the absentee landowners in unequal terms. They might not have sufficient resources to buy the agricultural inputs to put in for higher yield of rice even though they might have they might not do so because of sharing the crop with the landowners in unequal terms. The Land Reform Act permits only limited areas of land to own. Such a land area was not sufficient for even the small-scale commercial rice farming. Thus, the Land Reform Act severely restricted to put more efforts on and inputs in the land for high yield of rice.


One of the main inputs for high yield of the rice crop is the irrigation. The high-sounding irrigation projects, which often dubbed as the pride of the nation never completed for providing the farmers with the water because of the Public Procurement Act, which encouraged the concerned minister down to the field engineer and then the construction contractors to delay in completing the projects. As long as the project is ongoing those folks involved in the project could go on adding cost and extending the time. Naturally, they have no incentive to complete the projects because they get benefits from not completing the projects. They would be a laughingstock if they were to complete the project in time and at the estimated cost.


So, whenever monsoon rains fail during the rice-transplanting season, wives of farmers have to go to their fields at night and dance nude to appease the rain god called Indra to provide the farmers with rain water. How could the productivity of rice crops increases when poor farmers’ wives have to do the thing, which is socially not acceptable by any standard only to have some rains?


Ministers including the prime minister, bureaucrats, agricultural experts, engineers and construction contractors know that the irrigation projects if completed would provide farmers with water and could be the one of the main inputs for three rice corps a year in the terai. Why they needed to care about such nationally beneficial thing if it did not bring them any monetary benefits. That was why they did not complete such projects of the national pride in time and at the cost.


The State has the monopoly on providing farmers with the agricultural inputs including the water as already stated. One of the main agricultural inputs is the fertilizer. Fertilizers worth of billions of rupees are imported every year. The people involved in importing fertilizers were more interested in having the personal benefits than in providing the farmers with fertilizers at the time of or before the rice-transplanting season. Consequently, farmers have not fertilizers at the time of rice transplanting. Farmers have to pay high prices for fertilizers or go across the border and smuggle in some fertilizers.


The State was supposed to set the support prices of varieties of rice farmers produced. Most often than not, the State failed to set the support prices, and let the farmers to be at the mercy of middlepersons, who set the prices of rice and buy the rice even at such lows prices that farmers could hardly get the return on whatever inputs they have put in particularly the labor. So, the farmers are left high and dry.


Every finance minister in the budget says that the subsidy on fertilizers has been made for the benefits of farmers but the subsidized fertilizers never reach the farmers. Even if the fertilizers reach the farmers it becomes too late for the farmers to take the benefits of. So, every finance minister pretends to do something for the high yield of rice but in reality it is not.


If the finance ministers were sincere enough to help the farmers to produce more rice and make the rice crop high yield, then the finance ministers needed to make sure that one of the State-owned trading companies bought the rice from the farmers at the price that would make the farmers get profit from selling rice. That would surely encourage the farmers to put more efforts on and agricultural inputs in the land for producing more rice that could probably substitute import.


These folks in the State administration know all these facts but they don’t do the things that would benefits the nation but not them. They want to be rich and always above the common folks. That makes them to commit the grave crimes against the nation and let the nation drag down the economic prosperity.


June 30, 2018

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