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Farmers urge government to continue chemical testing on imported farm produce

  • The government has flip-flopped on mandatory chemical tests citing inadequate labs.
- RAJESH KHANAL, Kathmandu

Jul 14, 2019-

Farmers on Saturday urged the government to continue checking imported vegetables and fruits for pesticide residues, saying that the move will safeguard consumers and help boost demand for domestic produce.

The government had made pesticide residue tests mandatory on all imported agriculture produce on June 17. However, on July 3, the Cabinet withdrew the government’s earlier decision and allowed agriculture produce to be imported without undergoing pesticide residue tests.

The Supreme Court last Wednesday issued a stay order against the government move to revoke its own decision.

Speaking at an interaction, farmers termed the government’s step to conduct chemical tests on farm products ‘a positive move.’ “The government should not deter from its early decision and should also promote organic farming practices in local farms,” Jay Ram Sigdel, president of Youth Agriculture Forum.

Of the nearly 800 tonnes of vegetables being sold on a daily basis at Kalimati vegetable market, the country’s largest outlet of vegetables, one-fourth is imported from India, according to the record of Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market Development Board. Sigdel claimed that a large portion of the imported vegetables are contaminated with chemicals.

According to Sigdel, local farmers are also unable to compete with the cheaper Indian agricultural products. “At a time when farmers are attracted to produce organic products, they are likely to fetch a good price if the government’s new policy is implemented effectively.”

Despite local farmers claiming that they grow mostly organic produce, statistics from the government tell a different story. The record of the Plant Quarantine and Pesticides Management Centre shows that Nepal imported 635 tonnes of pest-killing chemicals, worth around Rs830 million, in the last fiscal year alone. Most of these pesticides—85 percent—was applied on vegetables.

The government record shows that in the last decade, imports of pesticides have climbed nearly five-fold—from 132 tonnes in 2007-08 to 635 tonnes in 2017-18. Sarachchanda Shrestha, former joint-secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, said the government needs to switch its priority from the import of farm chemicals to locally produced manures.

Shrestha, who also worked as an agriculture secretary of Province 4, said the provincial and local governments are also considering formulate their own standards for chemical testing on agricultural produce before hitting the local market.

The government has annulled its decision to test for pesticide residues due to inadequate infrastructure. The farmers however, termed the government’s reluctance as ‘lacking willpower.’ “If the government remains firm in its decision, a chemical testing lab can be installed at a cost of only Rs1.5-1.7 million,” said Santosh KC, member of Kisan Chautari Nepal, one of the farmers’ organisations.

Ranju Thapa, a farmer of Kavrepalanchok district, criticised the government mechanism on distribution of the subsidies. According to her, only people affiliated with the politicians and bureaucrats have been enjoying the government subsidies rather than the needy farmers.

Thapa also pointed out that the shortage of cold storage facility and high interest rate being charged by the banks among the hurdles faced by farmers. “Although the government has asked banks to provide loans at an interest rate of 2.5-3 percent per annum, banks are reluctant to abide with the government policy,” said Thapa.

Published: 14-07-2019 08:06

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