Agriculture, the main sector that provides livelihood to more than half the population of this country, is witnessing a curious change today. While our national dream remains to make agriculture the priority sector, labour shortage is increasing by the year. Even as we have recognised that rural to urban migration could lead to undesirable consequences, particularly in the remote pockets of the country, we have not been able to stop or reduce the phenomenon.

According a recent agriculture report, large movement of people from rural to urban centres is hurting the agriculture sector badly. More than 50 percent of farming households faced labour shortage in 2016. At the same time, crop damage by wild animals continues to hurt our farmers. In the same year, more than 40 percent of farmers reported crop damage by wild animals. Access to market, rather the lack of it, remains a challenge.

These are significant factors that discourage our farmers from growing more than just enough for household consumption. Of the country’s 7.8 percent arable land, only 2.93 percent is under cultivation. At a time when almost all our villages are connected with road, lack of access to market ought not to be a problem. Electric fencing programme and improved irrigation facilities have brought some benefits to the farmers. Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Ltd.’s increased loan ceiling from Nu 100,000 to Nu 500,000 allowed farmers to undertakes bigger ventures in the sector.  However, they have not helped turn agriculture around in a big way.

Agriculture ministry aims to produce 60,000 metric tonnes of vegetables to enhance food security and nutrition situation of the country. Target numbers are astounding. This will entail construction or renovation of hundreds of kilometres of roads and irrigation channels by 2018. Without collaboration with other ministries and agencies, such huge project could be difficult to implement. Food self-sufficiency has been our dream since the first Plan. Yet, agriculture is the sector that continues to be allotted the least national budget. The sector was allotted 44 percent of budget in the 4th Plan which dropped to 33 in the 5th Plan. In the 10th Plan, the sector received 5.5 percent of the budget which further dropped to 2.3 percent in the 11th.

Agriculture minister has said we are not deterred by the numerous challenges. Coming from the minister, these are encouraging words. What will matter more, though, is how successfully we address the many factors that affect the sector. We are an agrarian society. A significant portion of our population is still in agriculture.

It is about time we gave agriculture the top priority. This means giving fair share of national budget to the sector.