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2008 Poverty-stricken western areas most vulnerable to food-price hikes
Poverty-stricken western areas most vulnerable to food-price hikes

KATHMANDU, 6 May 2008 (IRIN)

Worldwide food price hikes are particularly hitting remote villages in western Nepal, the most food-deficit and impoverished part of the country, according to food security experts.

"We can't grow enough food. We have no source of employment. The rising food prices are making our life very difficult," said Kanchi Biswakarma, a villager from the remote hill district of Jumla, some 700km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

Biswakarma said her six-member family could afford only one meal a day. "If we eat in the morning, we have to skip a meal at night," she said.

"My whole family has to work as daily wage labourers to find enough money to buy food," said Maneta Chettri, a villager from the remote Dolpa District. Her children had to drop out of school to help her feed the family.

"The potential food crisis is growing and the number of people vulnerable to food insecurity has doubled in the last six months," WFP Nepal country director Richard Ragan told IRIN.

One of South Asia's poorest nations, Nepal has over eight million people (out of a population of about 28 million) living below the poverty line of US$1 per day. Roughly half of these 8 million are regarded as the extreme poor, who survive on less than 50 US cents a day, according to WFP.

Food insecurity is nothing new to Nepal due to its low agricultural productivity caused by droughts, natural disasters and poor farming practices and technologies, say agriculture specialists.

Less food from India

Nepal has been largely dependent on low-cost rice and vegetables from India. The ban on exports since October 2007 of non-Basmati (cheap) rice from India had caused a huge problem, said Ragan.

According to local traders, India's supplies roughly meet 25 percent of Nepal's food requirements.

The Ministry of Agriculture estimated that the production of summer paddy would be 17 percent higher this year, but it is likely that rice prices will still increase by over 20 percent because of the lack of food imports from India, according to WFP. The government's Central Bank of Nepal estimated that the price of rice had increased by over 30 percent in the last three months.

However, owing to lower incomes, people in remote hilly areas were most exposed to the price hikes.

"I used to pay only Rs 80 [US$ 1.27] for cooking oil and now it costs more than Rs 120 [$1.90]. The cost of rice has increased from Rs 5,000 [$80] to Rs 8,000 [$127] for a 100kg sack. Just imagine our hardship," said Sunita Chettri from Dolpa.

Tens of thousands of Nepalese migrate to India for seasonal work. This workforce usually returns home every six months with enough money to buy food and build up food stocks, but increasingly they are unable to do this, according to WFP.

Both China and India have rapidly expanding economies and rising food prices and this is affecting Nepal, especially the poorest there.

WFP officials said there was a need to set up programmes to build up farmers' capacity, increase investment in agricultural development and most importantly subsidise programmes for poor communities. In the interim, there was a need to supply food for eight million Nepalese immediately.

Political parties are in the process of forming a new government and there is uncertainty as to how and when food security issues will be tackled, said aid workers. "The timing of the potential food crisis has emerged in the middle of forming the new government, so there will be challenges," said the WFP's Ragan.

Credit IRIN 2008
Copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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