Nepal on course to reap record cereal harvest

April 24, 2018

Sangam Prasain, The Kathmandu Post, 24 April 2018

Nepal’s 2017-18 grain harvest is expected to hit a record high despite a projected fall in paddy output. According to the latest statistics of the Ministry of Agricultural Development, the country’s paddy, maize, wheat, millet, buckwheat and barley output is projected to grow 2.43 percent to 10 million tonnes this fiscal year ending mid-July.

The bumper cereal harvest could give the country a food surplus of nearly 1 million tonne, according to ministry officials.

Nepal produced 237,620 tonnes more food grain compared to the last fiscal year. “This fiscal year is ending with the largest ever food grain harvest in history,” said Yubak Dhoj GC, secretary at the ministry.

“Although the cereal acreage has been decreasing, production has swelled due to higher productivity,” he said.

The statistics show that cereal crops were grown on 3.42 million hectares this fiscal year, down 2.53 percent. This means 89,331 hectares of land were left fallow. The paddy acreage dropped to 1.46 million hectares this fiscal year from 1.55 million hectares in the last fiscal year.  

However, commercial farming techniques and mechanization has helped boost productivity resulting in higher output despite a drop in acreage. Improved farm technology, seed varieties and better pest and weed management, among other factors, influenced the agriculture sector lately, said GC.

Good monsoon rains were the single biggest factor leading to agriculture growth. “No doubt, if the rains are good, the yield improves,” said GC. For the next fiscal year, the government has planned on an irrigation-focused paddy production programme, he said.

“Currently, we have 15 different irrigation projects, and our plan is to focus on paddy production programmes in these areas where round-the-year irrigation facility is available,” said GC.

The government will be focusing on paddy production programmes in regions served by irrigation systems like the Sharada in Kailali; Bagmati Multipurpose in Bara, Rautahat and Sarlahi; Kanchan Danav Rupandehi; Kankai Jhapa; Sikta Banke; Koshi, Saptari; Gandak, Bara, Parsa, Rautahat and Nawalparasi; Babai Bardia; Marchawar Rupandehi; Eastern Rapti, Chitwan and Sunsari.

“By adopting this strategy, we aim to increase paddy production by 5 percent from the existing 5.15 million tonnes provided there is normal rainfall this year,” said GC. 

Nepal is likely to witness a ‘normal’ monsoon this year, according to the consensus statement of the 12th session of the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (Sascof) released on Friday. The monsoon rains which last from June to September are synonymous with higher agricultural yields as two-thirds of the country’s cultivable land lack round-the-year irrigation facility.

Nepal’s paddy output this fiscal year is expected to amount to 5.15 million tonnes, down 1.49 percent from the 2016-17 bumper harvest, mostly on account of the August floods in the southern Tarai plains, the Ministry of Agricultural Development said. Besides paddy, the production of buckwheat and barley has also decreased this fiscal year.

However, maize output is expected to hit an all-time high of 2.55 million tonnes this fiscal year with growers embracing commercial farming techniques to fulfill swelling demand from the feed industry.

Maize yields, the second largest crop after paddy, are expected to increase to a record 2.67 tonnes per hectare, up 6 percent from last year.

Likewise, winter wheat output is expected to hit a three-year high of 1.94 million tonnes, making it the second biggest wheat harvest in the country’s history despite a prolonged winter drought. The estimated winter wheat output this fiscal year is 5 percent higher than in 2016-17.