By Pramesh Pokharel
Around the world, the COVID-19 has left a severe impact on many countries’ economies, and the situation of Nepal is no better. Nepalese economy is at the crossroads, and it will also be impacted somehow from the crisis, though there are different views on the extent and intensity of impacts.
At a time when, though called developed and capitalist economies are profoundly affected as the cycle of finance and trade regime is affected, Nepal will be affected as the income, employment, and production sector will be severely impacted. COVID 19 has shown that the capitalist system has almost failed to deal with the pandemic due to its weak public service system, privatized necessary facilities, and inadequate public policies. Therefore, there are discussions going on economic and policy reforms. It is unfortunate that countries like Nepal, which has a historic opportunity to reform its economic and public sectors in her vision of the way forward to socialism, do not even talk about economic Sovereignty. Nothing observable has been done to create the socialist economic bases at a time of urgency of employment generation and moving towards self-sufficiency.
The pandemic is an important lesson and a crucial juncture, especially for least developed countries like Nepal to reduce the dependency and make a self-reliant economy by transforming agriculture, small and cottage industries, prioritizing polytechnics, creating jobs and reforming public policies. Unfortunately, anyone going through the policies and program and the budget of the new fiscal year of left government in Nepal concludes that historical time and opportunity are entirely wasted and went in vain. It has questioned the economic Sovereignty of the nation, and the national Sovereignty is at risk in the long run (production relations forms the sum totals of social relations). It has also destroyed the economic environment of the country.
The impacts of the pandemic on the economy are visible, but there were and still are many opportunities. We are not talking about how pandemic saved millions of our budget on advertisement and propaganda of Tourism year 2020. It’s not the right time to speak about remittance, which was the primary strength of Nepalese Gross Domestic Product. It’s time to talk concretely about how we can create employment within the country so that the migrant returnees can choose to work in their respective areas with dignity. In this regard, agriculture is still the backbone of the Nepalese economy; therefore, it’s important to discuss how we can revive agriculture. It’s time to talk about localized production and distribution systems. Time is favoring centralized planning, co-operative and collective process, and economic and political Sovereignty. But this is not realized by the new budget. Neoliberal globalization based on trade regimes and the policies favoring privatization, liberalization, industrial agriculture, and exploitation of migrants by multinational corporations is under crisis in the world. And there is an urgent need for an alternative approach of providing public services, supplying food and necessities, and dealing with a pandemic, the case in Nepal seems opposite.
Nepalese economy will be affected as the income, employment, and production sector. Therefore those three areas of increasing the national production, generating employment, and increasing revenue (except taxes) are essential. But the present policies have ultimately diverted the attention and no discussion at all in this regard. Yes, there was a communist party-led government with two-third majorities. There was a call and intense public sentiment for National Sovereignty to build the economy from all respects. There was a lesson from the crisis to become a self-reliant and self-sufficient economy. There was an urgent need for the generation of employment and income. People have started to talk about the much neglected and marginalized Agriculture sector, which is still the source of livelihood of the majority of people. But the Government, especially the ministry of Finance, Agriculture, Industry, and Tourism, all followed the neoliberal path of destroying the Nepalese economy and putting National Sovereignty at crisis. There was no effort by the Government to rescue and help farmers during the crisis, and there is an enormous undermining of agriculture if we think about the new context.
There was a historical opportunity of reviving agriculture. At least when people started talking about it, there was a chance to change the face of agriculture. But the slowly developing agriculture sector is devastated, and it is miserable to see the motives behind the dumping and destruction of farmers’ products in the name of safety. It is sad to see the export from Nepal has been stopped while there were more imports from India in the same period. This was not enough to destroy Nepalese agriculture, and many of the neoliberal reforms are introduced. The failed model of the land bank, which has devastating impacts to abolish the peasantry in many countries like the Philippines, has been introduced in Nepal. It was the time for the promotion of the collective and cooperative model of farming. It was the time for land reform. But the introduction of the land bank as an agency of land pooling and banking will further commercialize land and displace many peasants.
Other neoliberal reforms that will undoubtedly ruin the agriculture of Nepal are contract farming and foreign direct investment in agriculture. Discussion on Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact funded by US is another threat, if implemented will put people’s sovereignty in crisis. Contract farming is notorious in many European countries and stories of small farmers in Portugal, Spain, and France produce for companies. It is obvious that FDI will have serious impacts on peasantry. Therefore both land bank and contract farming along with FDI in agriculture introduced this year have seriously challenged the motives of the communist lead government. It is more important to expose that new programs are prioritizing modernization, industrialization, and commercialization of agriculture. While the whole world is rethinking about alternatives of corporate and industrial agriculture, it is unknown why the Nepal government is moving towards industrial agriculture with top priority. Industrial livestock farming is the primary cause of the present pandemic. Industrial-scale agriculture has led to chemical agriculture, mono-cropping, land grabbing, and peasants’ displacement and has contributed to climate change.
The glory of the peasant’s movement in Nepal is known all over the world. The constitutionalization of food sovereignty as the fundamental rights of people, new food sovereignty law, ban on all GM products (genetically modified), restriction on multinational companies on primary production are some achievements of the Peasant Movement of Nepal to mention. Peasants leaders talk about agroecology and Food Sovereignty, making it completely organic within ten years, new programs are in the opposite direction, such as an exponential increase in subsidies on chemical fertilizer and reducing the grants to the small farmers.
It’s a paradox that there is a similar trend of undervaluation of peasants and small food producers who are feeding the world and are only the hopes of humanity. The small scale food producers produce more than 70% of the world’s food and big farms, companies, and corporations only producing rest. Therefore from ecological, economic, and food sovereignty perspectives, it is essential to protect small farmers. If we don’t want to expect the severe hunger crisis in the coming days, it’s time to praise the small producers and call for the revival of agroecology and food sovereignty. The Cuban farming model and agroecology practice by landless workers in Brazil (MST) are just a few examples. Still, many other states are also moving towards ensuring people’s food sovereignty through agroecology and localized food systems in Venezuela, Bolivia (Introduced by Evo Morales) etc. It is also true that socialist states are more effective in responding to crises, and such has been the case in COVID 19. Kerala states in India is another good example.
There are many ways that Nepal can learn from the experiences and practices of different countries. It is evident that this negligence will cost a lot, as unemployment and poverty are unstoppable. We can save Nepalese agriculture and peasantry if we stop those harmful measures taken in agriculture through neoliberal reforms. Otherwise, we should understand that there are plans to devastate Nepal’s agricultural economy to make her dependent and attack on her Sovereignty as we know that economic Sovereignty is the basis of the nation’s Sovereignty.
**Disclaimer: “Opinion pieces that appear on the South Asia blog, always reflect the views of the author(s) and do not always necessarily reflect the views of his/her/their organization or the movement in general.”