KATHMANDU, June 27:There is a popular saying in the Tarai, which goes like this: Have the mangoes — do not count the trees. It means that a person should not question one´s good fortune but just enjoy it till it lasts.
However, the government of Nepal seems to have internalized the saying — literally.
Appalling neglect of horticulture sector over the decades has affected the production and improvement of fruits varieties in the country.
The government´s neglect of the sector is reflected through the fact that it has virutally done nothing to promote fruit production over the past half a century — after a dozen horticulture farms were established back in 1961 to promote the sector.
The central Horticuture Centre at Kirtipur, Kathmandu. The center is spread over 20 hectares of land.(Nirjana Sharma/Republica)
Now that the numbers of fruit trees are gradually declining, the people are feeling the direct impact of the government´s lethargy – in the form of ever increasing price of fruits.
Let´s take the mango, for instance. The mango season has arrived. But a ripe mango now costs at least Rs 20 more per kilogram as compared to the price some five years ago.
Pawan Sah, a permanent resident of Siraha district, has the bitter experience of purchasing the king of all fruits in the capital for the last couple of years.
“I remember buying ripe mangoes for as low as Rs 18 per kilogram only five years ago. The price went up to Rs 35 three years ago, and climbed to Rs 60 last year and this year it costs around Rs 90. This is shocking,” observes the mango lover.
More shocking is the fact that the mango is also getting dearer in his home district, which is one of the largest mango suppliers to Kathmandu.
Worse is the case of litchi. The litchis are sold in terms of dozens in the Tarai region whereas both the wholesalers and hawkers sell the litchis on metric scale in the Kathmandu Valley.
Apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, guavas, pomegranates, you may name, everything is getting costlier with every passing year.
The ever widening gap between the demand and supply has made the public buy the fruits at higher rates, admits government officials.
From the point of view of horticulturists, the fruit prices would have been much higher at the current market if the investment in the sector was equally sluggish in the past as it is in the last one and a half decade.
Horticulturists say the fruits we are having today are the produces from the trees planted over 50 years ago. Ironically enough, the sector remains more or less stagnant since the restoration of multiparty democracy in the country in the 90s.
In fact, the constant downfall in promotion and investment has been noticed in the democratic era, according to Horticulturist Dhana Bahadur Thapa who has served in the sector for the last 25 years. Thapa, has worked in almost all the 12 horticulture farms across the country.
“The mangoes, litchis, apples and oranges would have been rare fruits for Nepalis until now if the horticulture was not promoted in the past,” says Horticulturist Dhana Bahadur Thapa who is currently posted at the Central Horticulture Center in Kirtipur.
No wonder that the statistics on fruit imports shows worrisome trend of increasing dependency in the foreign countries.
The country imports fruits worth Rs 6 billion every year, according to the data provided by the Ministry of Commerce and Supply in March.
Nepal´s dependency on import to meet domestic demand for fruits is increasing due to lack of government programs to reduce import by promoting fruits farming within the country, analyzes horticulturist Thapa.
While briefing the import scenario to the Secretary Krishna Hari Banskota of the Prime Minister´s Office during his inspection in the market, Executive Director of Balkhu Fruit, a leading supplier of fruits to the Kathmandu Valley, Ram Krishna Kunwar stated that despite having immense potential for fruits farming, the dependency on import is increasing.
He further warned that the dependency would further increase if the government does not come up with effective programs to promote fruit farming.
India is the major suppliers of fruits to Nepal, which covers almost 75 percent of the country´s total import, he adds.
The market records transaction of more than Rs 7 million every day. However, the capital flight to India is increasing at an alarming rate as we depend more and more on import to meet our requirement for fruits.
Why horticulture lagged behind
It was in 1961 when the Indian Mission collaborated with the government of Nepal to establish horticulture farms in various places across the country.
During the collaboration, a total of 20 farms were established in various geographic regions keeping for the promotion of fruit varieties in the suitable regions. Among them, 12 were purely for promotion and improvement of fruit varieties.
The Indian Mission left shortly thereafter. And the government too seems have lost touch with the sector. Thus, the fruit farming that was merely a hobby in the past is yet to take the complete shape of entrepreneurship, according to Mahendra Man Shrestha, Chief of the Central Horticulture Center (CHC).
“The government, for the first time, adopted the policy to promote fruits farming as entrepreneurship only in 2003,” says Shrestha, adding that even that policy has not been pursued wholeheartedly.
Horticulturist Thapa points out that excessive politicization of the sector with the beginning of democratic era has affected the sector further.
“The politicians misunderstood that the farms would be profit oriented, they forgot that investment of both money and expertise is required for fruits farming,” adds Thapa.
Instead, political interference ruined the existing farms as well. The farms of Trishuli, Dhading and Kavre were handed over to the private sector in interest of a few political leaders, he claims.
Similarly, the farm of Rasuwa was merged with the Ministry of Forest whereas Kakani farm went under the tourism sector, which also slowed down the research works.
Later, the private sector gave back the farms to government failing to utilize them properly. The National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) has a separate division to carry out research on horticulture. However, the slow development in outcome shows lack of interest of the NARC officials in this area, says Shrestha. Until or unless more experts are deployed to improve the technical aspect for boosting fruit; productivity, the situation is likely to worsen, cautions Thapa.
“There is a clear indication from the behavior of policy makers and politicians that the farms that are not profit oriented need not be promoted, but who will make them understand that the farmers´ profit through the fruit farming is our successful outcome?” questions Thapa in fury.
All hopes rely on pocket programs
Among the fruits, oranges are relatively cheaper, and the credit goes to Japanese experts who entered Nepal 30 years ago to promote the orange and junar orange farming.
Even today, JICA is directly involved in the pocket areas of Sinshuli, Kavre and Ramechhap districts to increase orange and junar orange farming in those suitable areas.
In the recent years, the Department of Agriculture is looking forward to promote apple farming in mountainous regions, according to CHC Chief Shrestha.
The National Planning Commission plans to make Nepal independent on apple production for which 85,000 new saplings of apple were planted in Mustang last year alone.
Similarly, more six mountainous districts including Manang and five from the Karnali region have been declared pockets areas, and new saplings have already been distributed to the farmers.
Nuwakot and Sindhupalchowk have been identified as the favorable regions for For pomegranate farming whereas Kavre is emerging as the leading kiwi farming over the recent years, the CHC officials adds.
The fruit of neglect- Nepal relies more and more on imported fruits as government fails to promote horticulture