Reducing Poverty in the Himalayas: How Nepal Can Improve Food Security

Nepali leaders must make food security a top priority in the nation’s budget

One year after the earthquake that sent food security “into a tailspin,” Nepal is taking critical steps to feed its people

May 29, 2016, Kathmandu, Nepal—As the fastest growing region in the world, South Asia’s path toward ending hunger and malnutrition will have global impacts far beyond the continent. The Global Food Policy Report, the flagship publication of the International Food Policy Research Institute, provides an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events in the past year, and examines key challenges and opportunities for the coming year. In Nepal, this is centered on building resilience, reviving the battered agricultural sector, and increasing food security following last year’s deadly earthquake.

“Last year’s earthquake had a devastating impact on Nepal, sending the country’s food security into a tailspin,” said IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan. “Farmers must be plugged back into the food chains that broke when the earthquake hit, and that means reconnecting them with the technologies, the infrastructure, and the markets necessary to take their products from farm to fork.”

To address these challenges Fan will highlight the report at “Sustainable Agricultural Growth in Nepal: Challenges, Opportunities and Options” May 29 and 30 in coordination with the Institute for Integrated Development Studies and Nepal Economic Association.

Though in recent years about two-thirds of Nepalese workers worked in agriculture, the country has slipped from a net exporter of food to a net importer. Against a backdrop of food price volatility, it’s important that adequate safety nets are in place: the percent of households relying on food assistance skyrocketed from less than one-tenth of a percent before the earthquake to 35 percent after, according to the World Food Programme.

Immediately after the earthquake, 80 percent of the most food insecure households lost their entire food stock and 55 percent of households overall lost at least half their food stock. A strong post-disaster recovery can lead to long-term development that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly—all hallmarks of a resilient food system.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Sharma Oli described details of the budget on Nepal Television’s live program “Direct Conversation with PM.” When asked by a farmer about specifics in the agricultural sphere, Oli said the sector can anticipate modernization and commercialization, as well as subsidies, loans, and credit for farmers.

Increased use of technologies to counter labor shortages and enacting safety net policies such as an employment guarantee are critical to achieving food security—which must be the top priority for Nepal’s recovery.

Moving forward, it will be important to strengthen nutrition programs. In the 2000s, Nepal was among the top countries in the world for reduction in undernutrition, but the earthquake shifted priorities and funding—and can threaten the health of Nepal’s next generation. The budget must mirror the fact that it’s not just about the amount of food people eat, but the nutritional quality of that food.

The future looks bright for the country if policymakers are willing to increase public investment while building a strong private-sector business environment that will capitalize on innovation.

Source: IFPRI. Date: May 29, 2016