“There is definitely a shortage of [chemical] fertilizers. This will have a direct impact on the food security situation,” Hari Dahal, a senior government official with Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates 3.6 million people are food insecure in Nepal.
While usage of chemical fertilizers is growing, budget cuts have limited Nepalese farmers to only a fraction of what their regional counterparts depend on.
Two thirds of paddy farmers in Nepal use fertilizers, and about half of wheat farmers, according to The Food Security Atlas of Nepal released in July by the government, WFP and the Nepal Development Research Institute. But on average Nepalese famers use 400 grams per hectare compared to 40kg in Japan, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The ministry’s budget for this year is about US$100 million - barely 2.5 percent of the national budget - a dramatic decrease in 15 years from when a quarter of the budget was dedicated to agriculture - the livelihood of more than three-quarters of the nation’s households.
In recent years fertilizer usage has risen 10 percent annually. In 2004, 285,000 tons was used compared to more than 500,000 tons this year, the Central Bureau of Statistics said. The government has provided only 100,000 tons of this amount.
“We have been asking the government to increase our budget - not just for supplying enough fertilizer but also to provide fresh crop seeds to farmers and [to] invest in irrigation development,” the Agriculture Ministry’s Dahal said, noting improvements in these three components could greatly help ease food shortages.
Experts say food shortages in the Terai region, the country’s breadbasket, have been worsening over the years, with farmers depending heavily on chemical fertilizers to increase productivity.
“The shortage of fertilizers is now a growing problem and is quite seriously affecting the farmers of the Terai - unlike in the hills where farmers have almost given up hope of getting the fertilizers; especially because it is both inaccessible and unaffordable for them,” agricultural expert Krishna Raj Aryal of the NGO Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal, said.
As Nepal does not produce its own chemical fertilizers, it purchases them under a special bilateral agreement with neighbouring India.
The government then sells the fertilizers at a highly subsidized rate, based on its formal fertilizer trade deal with India, to farmers who otherwise would not be able to afford them.
According to the Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordination Unit of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, in places where fertilizers are not available or not used, there is an urgent need to train farmers how to best utilize the soil and fresh seeds.
Apart from the need for fertilizer, the Food Security Atlas cites lack of irrigation, soil erosion, limited mechanization and poor usage of improved seeds and pesticides as the primary barriers to agricultural production.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions