Urban land expansion in the Tarai, Kathmandu, Pokhara and other towns rose from 221.1 km2 in 1989 to 930.2 km2 in 2016. This means 71,000 ha of land was converted into housing and 93% of this was prime agricultural land suitable for rice cultivation.
Outmigration has also meant that 18-37% of farms have been abandoned in the mountainous regions.
These trends have serious implications for food and nutrition security in the country. But this change in land use pattern and land abandonment is hardly reflected in any government data base of crop area coverage in Nepal.
The COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to rethink health and livelihoods of low income groups and vulnerable people in Nepal’s overall economy. However, this crisis offers us the chance to build technology intensive rice-based agri-food system in Nepal.
Now is the time to have a national discourse and consensus on the type of actions needed to make the country self-sufficient in rice, improve productivity and profitability of rice-based system using innovative solutions, create more jobs in rice-based agri-food systems for Nepali youth and women by connecting production with the food systems and fully unlock the immense potential of rice-based agri-food systems in Nepal for overall economic development.
Nepal needs to adopt technology-intensive farming to increase rice productivity by at least 1.5 times in next five years and reduce cost of production to make it competitive while protecting the environment. This is best done by integrating climate resilient technologies and precision rice farming practices widely.
A practical strategy could be to intensify climate resilient, high yielding and high quality improved inbred varieties in at least 60% of the area, conserving and commercialising indigenous rice landrace in about 15% while growing high-yielding and multi-stress tolerant hybrid rice varieties in about 25% area.