Tourism can wipe out food insecurity in the Far-West


KATHMANDU: Richard Ragan, Country Director of United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) for Nepal has said that the problem of food insecurity in the country needs a systematic approach. “What WFP is doing in the Far-West and Karnali regions (Cash/Food for Asset Programs) is only a short-term solution. WFP has been providing food grains in aid to the poor population in the Mid- and Far-West regions. European Union (EU) is funding the food/cash for work programs of WFP.

He said tourism should be developed in these regions to break the cycle of poverty as happened in case of the Khumbu region and Muktinath trail. “These places are also barren but thanks to tourism, the population can at least buy their food items. The Upper Dolpa, Jumla, and most of these remote villages if developed as tourist destinations can attract a handsome tourism revenue.”

Nepal faces a cereal-deficit of about 400,000 tonnes every year, with 41 per cent of total population undernourished. “The people in those areas are hungrier today than they were a decade or so ago, mainly due to climatic change affecting agricultural cycle.” He also pointed out the double-digit inflation in last couple of years as adversely affecting the poor. Similarly, the general political instability that caused bandhs and similar disruptions has made it very difficult for the people to deliver their produce to the markets.

He said “Kathmandu-wallahs” have the misconception that food-aids are making farmers lazy and creating dependency. “It is easier for them to say that sitting comfortably in Kathmandu,” said Ragan who has been visiting to extremely poor and difficult-to-reach regions in Nepal.

“We are using food as an entry point. Our target is to provide the assets like roads and canals to the people so that they can cope up with food-deficit in the coming years,” he said. “The farmers are still planting the crops. We are just providing them with food for the lean period.”

Under our Food/Cash for Asset programs, we use food as the currency to pay people because they don’t have access to food. Food is actually more important to them than money because even if they have money there’s nowhere to buy food. We do road construction work, village to market access, irrigation work, he said. “Government had been sort of ignoring the issue of food security.” Last year, the government paid WFP $ 16 million for food aid.

Building the infrastructures will be a medium-term approach,” he said. For a long-term solution, a national policy for a comprehensive development of agriculture is needed. Talking about inaccessibility and logistical problems, he said, “I have been saying that we have used everything but elephants for the distribution.”

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