Increased horticulture production provides jobs to vegetable sellers and transporters. On the supply side, high-value agriculture expands the markets for agrovets — small businesses which provide seeds, fertiliser and crop protection to farmers.
Migrants returning from the Middle East and East Asia have greater management and technical skills than the average population, as well as more financial resources. After living overseas for several years most migrants are unlikely to be satisfied with going back to engage in subsistence agriculture in their family fields.
Their limited savings will be insufficient to support their families, who have become accustomed to regular transfers of remittances, but the training they might receive from NGOs would enable them to engage in high-value agriculture.
The experience of comprehensive agricultural value chain projects such as USAID’s Knowledge-based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition (KISAN II) demonstrates that there is plenty of room for growth in high-value agriculture in the country and there is proven capacity in-country to induct hundreds of thousands of new farmers into the sector. Well-designed development projects can leverage substantial resources from the migrants themselves.
Land is currently underutilised in Nepal, with many farmers in the Tarai growing just one crop a year. With irrigation, three crops per year are possible. The government is moving forward with rules to prevent landlords from leaving land fallow and to clarify regulations around leasing of land which returnees can use for growing vegetables and other crops.
In most parts of the Tarai, groundwater is accessible through shallow tube wells. The national grid has reached all municipalities in the Tarai and increasing numbers of farmers are able to use electricity for irrigation pumping. Farmers with small plots of up to one acre of land can purchase relatively low-cost solar pumps suitable for vegetables (typical cost is $600-$800), pay for them in monthly installments, or finance them through a 60% subsidy program of the Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC).
We estimate that a total investment of $170 million by the Government of Nepal and donors would enable 250,000 farmers with an average of a third of an acre to generate over $2 billion in vegetable sales over five years, with $750 million in annual sales going forward.
While the government’s investment of $500 per farmer would be used to reduce the cost of purchasing simple greenhouses and solar pumps, each returnee would spend around $1,540 on seeds, fertiliser, land leases and farm equipment.
We anticipate that donors would need to invest around $180 per farmer for training and linkages with private companies, which can supply inputs as well as sustainably market and process what farmers produce. With such programs in place, returning workers would find it much easier to reintegrate into their communities and, if history is any guide, Nepal could find itself with a profitable new market.
Bikash Pandey is Winrock International’s Director of Clean Energy. Praveen Baidya is Deputy Chief of Party/Finance of Agriculture and Volunteer Programs at Winrock International.