Making Nepal Self-Sustainable in the Maize Sector

-  Aditi Rana and Ayushma Basnyat

Maize is the second most important crop in Nepal. It occupies 928,000 hectares of land, which is almost 30% of the total cultivable land. Around 24,14,428 number of households are involved in maize cultivation.

Today, the production of maize has increased from 2.06 million metric ton (MT) in 2011 to 2.3 million MT, which is a 23% increase in 5 years. Maize is mainly used as food for human consumption, feed for domestic animals and as a key ingredient for the poultry feed mill industry. However, the demand for maize in Nepal is 3.5 MT. This means that the demand for maize is yet unmet.

However, the industrial sector demands 0.5 million MT of maize per year. As the poultry industry is increasing very fast, the feed industry is also growing at a pace of 11% per annum. Thus, the demand for maize is shifting from food to feed for livestock and poultry. In order to meet the demand for maize for the poultry feed mill, around 60% of the total requirement of maize is being imported. If farmers in Nepal increase maize production to cater to this demand, then the country can reduce dependency on imported maize.

However, there are systemic constraints in the maize sector that inhibit growth of the sector. More specifically, the limited availability of quality seeds, limited knowledge on proper cultivation practices, improper post-harvest handling and limited linkages with the commercial maize market are the underlying causes for the underperformance of this sector.

Sahaj partnered with Annapurna Agro Industries in the maize sector with a view to address these constraints. Annapurna Agro Industries is one of the leading pellet feed company in Nepal “It is difficult for us to operate when we have to rely on imported maize,” Rajkumar Parajuli, the Finance Director of Annapurna Agro Industry shares. Therefore, the company is working to promote commercial maize cultivation in Nepal. “We provide a buy-back guarantee to the farmers in Sunwal Municipality, Nawalparasi: In that, we recommend maize seed variety approved by the Government of Nepal, train them on proper maize cultivation and post-harvest practises, and ultimately buy back the maize they have grown for our poultry feed mill. We are working toward the vision of making Nepal self-sufficient in the production of maize,” Parajuli shares.

Sahaj acts as a facilitator to liaise between gaps in the market system. It works in the maize sector to ensure that smallholder maize farmers, including women and disadvantaged groups, have improved access to agro-input markets, knowledge and extension services, and to markets for the end products and therefore increase their income. Sharada Damai is one of the beneficiaries of Annapurna Agro Industries under Sahaj. She proudly shares, “This is the first time that our ward has collectively sold 45 quintals of maize. We are grateful that Annapurna Agro not only buys our maize, but also helps us improve our cultivation practices.”

Many farmers engaged in maize farming are smallholders: more than 72% of the maize farmers have less than 1 ha of land. In addition, many maize farmers are also women. The higher rates of out-migration among the male population has resulted in women engaging in more and more farming activities. It is estimated that 60-80% of women are involved in maize cultivation. The development of the maize sector holds tremendous prospects for raising the income of rural households and create opportunities for additional employment as it engages many farmers and labourers.

Initially Annapurna Agro was also not sure of the results and therefore wanted to test this model with a small number of farmers. They decided to try it out with a small group of farmers in Sunwal, Nawalparasi. Enthused by the positive results of the pilot phase of their partnership, Parajuli says, “We want to expand our work to reach more farmers.” The expansion plan is being worked out and Annapurna Agro wants to work with somewhere close to 1000 farmers.

Sahaj, also known as the Nepal Agricultural Market Development Programme (NAMDP), is a joint initiative of the Government of Nepal and the Government of Switzerland. It is mandated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and is designed as a 12-year programme with three consecutive phases. The first phase of the programme started from March 2016 and will continue until December 2019. Sahaj is jointly implemented by Swisscontact as the lead agency, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED).