India steps up agro-diplomacy in Nepal

November 8th, 2010 - 2:12 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Nov 8 (IANS) New Delhi is stepping up its agro-diplomacy in Nepal’s Terai plains, known as the “food bowl” of the country, pledging more than NRS 300 million for the construction of over 3,000 shallow tubewells for better irrigation.

As part of the Indian government’s economic cooperation projects in Nepal, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu and the Nepali finance ministry have already signed a memorandum of understanding to erect 1,000 tubewells in the two Terai districts of Mahottari and Dhanusha.

Now, talks are on to sign two more MoUs that will cover 10 additional Terai districts.

Besides 350 tubewells in Siraha, India will fund 2,700 more in nine southern districts.

The new drive follows an earlier Indian assistance that led to the construction of 7,700 tubewells in 22 Terai districts.

The aid comes as Nepal faces food scarcity due to a late monsoon and unpredictable rainfall.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives was reported as saying by Chinese news agency Xinhua that this year’s national paddy and maize harvests have decreased by 11 and 4 percent respectively compared with last year’s yield.

Agriculture, the main source of livelihood for over three-quarters of Nepal’s 28 million population, has been badly hit by the decade-long Maoist insurgency that destroyed rural infrastructure, disrupted storage, transportation and market access, and affected livestock production and animal health services.

In the last three years alone, Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, saw an additional five million people fall below the poverty line due to high food prices and poor harvests.

Bad crops in the Terai also mean greater migration of work forces to India across the border.

The Forest and Agriculture Organisation of the UN estimates that currently, 3.4 million Nepalis face food insecurity. More than 50 percent of Nepal’s 75 districts are food-deficit and nearly 28,000 children under the age of five die annually from easily preventable illnesses.

“Farmers have difficulty in accessing basic agricultural inputs due to their high costs, limited local seed production capacity and poor road networks,” the FAO said.

“The lack of quality seeds, fertilisers and agricultural machinery results in an average per hectare yield of rice, wheat, maize and pulses - Nepal’s staple crops - that is notably lower than that of neighbouring countries.”

The crisis has been aggravated by an ongoing political instability that hit the state’s investment powers, limited at the best of times, and exports, while continued strikes have affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

However, the former Maoist guerrillas have been critical of India’s economic cooperation, which means projects are funded directly by India in collaboration with local agencies in Nepal, saying it disturbed the balance in Nepal’s relations with India and China since all China-aided projects are implemented solely through government agencies.

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