Senior Statistician Ram Krishna Regmi at the Ministry of Agriculture does a back-of-the-envelope calculation to show that at 130kg per capita per year of rice consumption, Nepal’s 30 million people would need 3.9 million tonnes of rice.
Regmi says that even if only 60% of the rice remains after dehusking and milling, Nepal would need 6.5 million tonnes of rice. But domestic production and imports this fiscal year totalled more than 7.5 million tonnes.
According to figures from the Department of Customs, Nepal imported 546,000 tonnes of paddy from August 2020 – April 2021, whereas in the same period in the previous fiscal year it was only 247,000 tonnes. Most of the rice was imported from India, although some rice also came from China, Thailand, Japan and the United States.
Even though some of the imported rice is used for seed, this does not explain the huge increase in imports. Some agronomists say that with the ease of transport, many Nepalis in the high mountains are giving up traditional rice varieties, millet, buckwheat and other crops for rice. Remittances allow many families to eat more rice, and the upper middle class is moving to imported long-grained aromatic rice varieties.
Karki says that even putting all this together does not explain the sharp increase in imports. He suspects the rice imports are mostly going not to feed Nepalis, but Nepal’s burgeoning beer industries.
With new breweries opening up and a range of new Nepali and international brands being made here, the demand for rice adjunct has shot up. Beer production requires barley, but more and more plants are using rice, broken rice and rice hulls to start the brewing process.
“It could be a combination of demand from the alcohol industry and from livestock breeding,” admits Subodh Gupta of the Rice, Pulses, Dal Producers Association of Nepal. “The rice produced in Nepal is not of good enough quality.”