Adding to the problem is outmigration of young men, leaving fields fallow. And as soon as the man of the house migrates to India, Malaysia or the Gulf, his wife and children move to the towns. There, they buy food from the money he sends home, and pay for the children’s education. Their farms up in the mountains are abandoned, and goes back to being jungle.
Ten mountain districts like Taplejung, Panchthar, Palpa and Parbat have witnessed negative population growth in the last decade. Some of them have lost up to a third of their population. Twenty-seven of Nepal’s mountain districts showed a decline in total population between 2001 and 2011. Demographers say the hills and mountains will be nearly emptied by 2050, if this trend persists.
In contrast, Tarai districts like Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari and Rupandehi have seen population growth higher than the national average because of people moving down from the mountains.
In 2001, more than 156,000 hectares of terrace farms in the mountains were under paddy cultivation. Last year the area was down to 137,000 hectares. Areas under other crops like wheat and barley are also shrinking.
Agriculture expert Shankar Sapkota summarises the crisis in simple terms: “Migration has become an easy means of livelihood, but its impact on our agriculture economy is huge.”
(With inputs from Prakash Singh in Bajura)