2.1 Food availability and consumption
In a country that is largely agricultural with over 90 per cent of the households engaged in basically food production activities, food availability may be a useful starting point for any discussion on the question of rural poverty. However, food availability, by itself, may not mean much as actual consumption may be supported more through trading activities than local production. But seen in terms of the significance of food producing activities in the country, it cannot be said to be irrelevant. In Nepal food consists of cereal grains and cereal products, pulses, vegetables, spices, fruits and nuts, meat, milk and eggs, etc. Cereal grains like rice, maize, wheat, millet and barley account for about 60 per cent of total consumption of cereals. Table 5.1 which shows the total supply and availability over the years suggests that the availability has been declining slowly One source estimates that during the period 1964/65 - 1978/79 food availability declined by 13.4 per cent or 4.51 gms./year. “The Central Food Research Laboratory’s norm of 2256 calories per capita per day to be obtained from 605 gms. of cereals and 60 gms. of pulses for survival was never met during the period 1964/65 - 1978/79”.1 The situation since 1979 has worsened because of the extremely poor performance of the agricultural sector.
Table 5.1 Per Capital Food Grain Availability in Nepal 1964/65-1979/80
(Foodgrain Quantities in ‘000 tonnes)
Given the great regional heterogenity in Nepal, some reference to the ecological differences is necessary to provide a more realistic picture. Table 5.2 shows the nature of foodgrain balance in different ecological belts. The picture is unmistakable. The number of deficit districts is increasing, primarily in the hills. In general both the national and regional food availability situation suggests that it has not improved over the years. It might have even deteriorated as the opportunities for alternative sources of income and employment have grown very slowly over the years.
Table 5.2 Regional Food Balance in Nepal (1974/75 - 1978/79)
It may be appropriate here to briefly refer to a specific study that examined calories available to different classes of farms. The reference area was very small (i.e. parts of two hill districts) and the results can in no way be generalised for the whole of Nepal; but they are very suggestive of the extensive nature of poverty (in terms of basic survival) in one area in the hills and the mountains. This is shown in Table 5.3. The figures above suggest that a great majority of the farm holdings (in the hills) could not support those living on them anywhere near an adequate nutritional level. Particularly alarming is the high percentage (38 per cent) of farm holdings with an average supporting capacity of only some 1500 cal./day/ACU.
In this context it might also be added that in the hills landholdings below 0.75 ha. appeared generally unable to provide for an average family’s food requirements and this applied to 85 per cent of the household. Similarly for the Terai, farms under 1.7 ha. were too small for supplying basic food requirements and this applied to 50 per cent of the households.1 What this indicates is the critical role of both farm and off-farm employment. Both of these are quite limited, given the huge magnitude of those in need of such types of employment support. Given the pressures already active in Nepalese agriculture, it is doubtful how much scope there is for increasing labour-intensity of Nepalese agriculture. While every effort must be made to enhance productivity in the agricultural sector,2 the role of non-agricultural activities in rural poverty reduction cannot be overemphasised.
Table 5.3 Average Calorie Intake by Farm Size in Two Hill Districts of Nepal
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]