Dancing in the Rice Paddies

Ananda Kafle

Like in the past, this year too, National Paddy Day was celebrated on June 29. Party leaders, government officials, journalists, celebrities and common people went to rural farms, smeared mud on their clothes, brandished spades, held aloft bunches of paddy seedlings and smiled widely for the camera. Moreover, some of them even played music, danced and had a sort of a party. Rice transplantation photographs received much space in newspapers and on television. Some of these celebrators are trying to mimic traditional rice planting practices. In reality, things have changed. The interest of people towards rice cultivation itself has decreased. Shortages of fertilisers and good quality seeds, lack of irrigation facilities, the labour intensive nature of rice farming and meager productivity are some factors that have discouraged peasants from continuing this occupation. Shortage of labour is another hurdle. Nepal’s villages are being evacuated of youths. Instead of being engaged in low-paying seasonal employment, many have chosen to move abroad. Their dependents in the country are either physically unable to work in the fields or prefer to live on remittance rather than do tedious peasantry. Until a few decades ago, the domestic production of rice used to be sufficient for the country’s food needs. Now, a large portion of the demand is being fulfilled by imported grain. Flat lands in the Tarai, regarded as the grain basket of the country, frequently turn barren due to inadequate rain and other adversities. Lack of awareness on the proper use of chemical fertilisers has led to degraded productivity of the soil, which has further increased the need for chemical supplements. Invading insects and weeds have developed resistance due to excessive use of insecticides, and this has made the crops more vulnerable to diseases. Waters from big rivers like the Koshi are drained directly to India across farmlands in the bordering Tarai. Unfair treaties prevent Nepali farmers from irrigating their fields with this water. In some districts, several hectares of cultivable fields have been submerged and made unfit for farming due to embankments and riverbed structures constructed by the southern neighbour. Despite many big rivers flowing through irrigable landscapes in the Tarai, peasants are compelled to wait for the rains to plough their fields. Marking National Paddy Day is not enough to encourage farmers to produce more rice. If the government was concerned about the issue in a real sense, the issues stated above need attention. Farmers should be given greater respect so that more youths are motivated to join them. Otherwise, such celebrations will not bring any change other than providing elites with an opportunity to show off their farming hobby.

(Earlier published in The Kathmandu Post, 9 July  2014)

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