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In western Nepal, the rice fields shrink in spring

Lack of irrigation has forced farmers in Lumbini province to give up farming spring paddy, one of the main sources of food grain.

However, most farmers have switched to maize as the use of superior hybrid seeds has increased production and income compared to spring paddy.

The area’s spring paddy (known as chaite dhan in Nepali) has been on a declining trend nationwide as the government has not kept its promises.

The government planned to expand the area under spring paddy by 200,000 hectares to 300,000 hectares in a bid to increase production and make the country self-reliant in food grains.

Nepal has 1.44 million hectares of land suitable for growing rice. However, spring paddy is grown on only 104,712 hectares.

Spring paddy is planted in 35 districts between mid-March and mid-April. However, planting this crop is not common because it requires better irrigation. As a result, most growers prefer to grow paddy in summer when rainfall is plentiful.

Despite the low area, the productivity of spring paddy is high, with a yield of 4.98 tons per hectare, compared to 3.97 tons for regular summer paddy.

In Lumbini province, 3,038 hectares of spring paddy was transplanted last financial year, which has shrunk to 2,677 hectares in the current financial year.

Bardiya, one of the major rice producing districts in Lumbini province, has seen its area shrink from 1,450 hectares to 1,201 hectares in the last financial year.

With the exception of Rolpa and Rukum, spring paddy is grown in all districts of Lumbini province.

The rice production areas in Palpa have decreased to 630 hectares this financial year from 700 hectares last year. The area in Gulmi has been reduced from 340 hectares to 319 hectares.

In Arghakhanchi, the area has decreased from 200 hectares last year to 170 hectares.

The area under cultivation in Rupandehi has reduced to 54 hectares from 60 hectares in the last financial year, and the area under which Kapilvastu paddy fields are produced has halved to five hectares this financial year.

However, according to the Lumbini Province Agricultural Development Directorate, the area under spring paddy has increased marginally in some districts.

It has increased from 40 hectares to 55 hectares in Pyuthan and from 5 hectares to 7 hectares in Nawalparasi.

Similarly, in Dang, the paddy field increased marginally from 198 hectares to 200 hectares in spring. In Banke this has increased from 35 hectares to 36 hectares.

According to government officials, in the ten districts of Lumbini province, Chaite-2, Chaite-4, Chaite-6, Hardinath-I and Bindeshwari are some of the paddy varieties planted in spring.

“The decline in production area is mainly due to the lack of farm workers in the villages,” said Ram Prasad Pandey, head of the Agricultural Development Directorate of Lumbini Province.

“Since agriculture has no appeal, this has led to mass emigration. Young people are leaving their hometowns in droves to find better jobs abroad.”

He said that in south Tarai, the production cost of spring paddy is high as most farmers irrigate their land using electric pumps.

Similarly, experts say spring paddy is not the best choice for consumption, especially in urban areas, due to its large and thick grains. However, the demand for fine and long grain rice varieties has increased exponentially. But these varieties are not produced on a commercial scale in Nepal.

Palpa, Gulmi, Arghakhanchi, Pyuthan, Kaligandaki, Badikhola, Ridi Khola, Mathura and other areas were once popular for spring paddy as the terraced fields were covered with paddy during March-May.

The youth from the hills are leaving Nepal or going to bigger cities in the country. With income from other professions higher than that from agriculture, experts say the future of agriculture in western Nepal looks bleak.

As rice cultivation declines in the spring, the provincial government is implementing programs to attract farmers.

The decline of the rice field in spring is mainly due to a lack of sufficient irrigation.

The existing irrigation projects are out of use and farmers cannot afford their repairs and maintenance. Pumping water with electricity costs a lot, farmers say.

However, agricultural experts say that although rice fields have shrunk in the spring, the area under corn cultivation has increased recently. “Maize production is increasing in Tarai compared to spring paddy,” Pandey said.

Experts say most farmers are growing hybrid corn. The use of superior hybrid seeds has boosted production and farmers today have switched from paddy to maize, Pandey said.