Asar 15 that falls on 29 June this year is celebrated as ‘paddy day’ every year. For an agricultural country like ours, it sounds like a matter of high significance. However, as villages are turning to towns and towns are turning into concrete jungles, paddy fields are being rapidly displaced by haphazard urbanization. Like any town across the country, the case of Pokhara is no exception to this trend.
“On Wednesday, the government is going to mark 13th Paddy Day. As paddy fields are rapidly brought in use for other purposes, it is sadness we have to accept that paddy production is decreasing every year,” said Madan Kumar Shrestha, acting director at the Agricultural Regional Office in Pokhara. He added that huge loss of production has been noticed in 14 among 16 districts of the western region. “In Manang and Mustang, paddy is hardly grown. Except that, we see remarkable difference in paddy production in the remaining 14 districts of this region,” Shrestha added.
According to the office, paddy was planted in 16,032 hectors across the region in fiscal year 2069/70. The total yield that year was 1.1 million metric ton. Two years later, during the fiscal year 2072/73, paddy was planted only in 298,195 hectors and subsequently the yield went down to 950,320 metric tons.
“Such great decline within a short period is alarming,” remarked Shrestha. “Factors behind it are easily discernable. Farm fields are being plotted up and sold for commercial and other purposes. If this trend continues, food crisis is inevitable,” he added.
According to Shrestha, the new ‘fashion’ of erecting buildings in fertile land is very challenging for paddy production. Along with that switching to cash crop farming, including vegetable and fish farming, has also affected paddy production. “It is however still good if they are doing vegetable or fish farming. However, barren land and plotting of the land directly affects the agricultural sector which ultimately hits national economy,” Shrestha maintained.
He further said that the town areas of Kaski, Rupandehi, Nawalparasi and Kapilbastu are rapidly being plotted up and put on for sale. This is alarming considering the fact that Kapilbastu, Nawalparasi and Rupandehi are well known for paddy production in the western region. “The bazzar area is now fully a concrete zone. You see houses everywhere. Few fields are left in the hilly areas, or else, they have plotted up paddy fields everywhere,” Shrestha said. He added that the situation is worse in Pokhara. “Pokhara needed to guard its originality and beauty. However, huge commercial complexes and private houses have disfigured it,” he said adding that the government needs to introduce a strict policy to intervene into all this.
Bheshraj Parajuli, president of Nepal Farmers’ Association, Kaski, feels that the government should take serious step against haphazard plotting of the arable land. “If the plotting of land for purposes other than farming continues in the present pace, very soon there won’t be any farms in Pokhara and other parts. The government has to take strict action against plotting,” he said. He added that efforts of individuals or organizations in this regard cannot restrict the trend due involvement of strong land mafia networks into it. “Only government can do something about it. The strength of individuals or organizations cannot fight the land mafias,” he said.
He further stated that ‘unnecessary’ migration from village to towns has triggered plotting of the land. Since people do not want to live in villages they throng to town areas. As the village mass leave village for ‘comfort’ in town, fewer people remain in village to do farming, Parajuli noted. “Such migration affects in two ways. One the one hand, lack of proper planning in towns leads to haphazard urbanization and on the other hand, agricultural produce declines due to relatively lesser participation of the population in farming activities,” he said.
Arjun Pokhrel, president of Gandaki Land and Residential Development Committee, however has a different appraisal of the situation. While stating that lands should be developed for residential and other purposes, he stressed on checking haphazard plotting of land. “See, we have to be practical and accept the fact that people like to migrate to towns from villages. That’s their right. This natural choice was further escalated during the decade-long insurgency,” he explained.
Pokhrel said the trend of people adopting new professions and migrating to towns is not a problem, but pointed to lack of urban planning in towns as the real problem that is turning towns ugly. “In lack of proper planning mechanisms and standards, haphazard plotting of residential areas might have taken place. But this can be improved and checked if all the stakeholders and the government work together. I fell they must, there is not other way than that. Else, things will be worse.”
Results of the haphazard urbanization are already visible. Som Bahadur Thapa, president of Pokhara Tourism Council lamented that the city is not left with appropriate places to celebrate Paddy Day. “Farms are being plotted up and used for construction so fast over the years that coming now we are struggling to find land to celebrate festivals like paddy day. It’s really sad,” he said.