Anju Khatri ,
Since 24 March 2020, the Nepal government has enforced a strict lockdown to control the rapid spread of the coronavirus, also termed as SARS-CoV-2 throughout the country. Although the pandemic has succeeded in threatening the entire world in such a small span of time, the Nepali government has only been taking baby steps to contain it.
The global economy is currently walking on the sharp edge of a knife. “This is a truly global crisis as no country is spared,” Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s chief economist had written in a blog this past month. The lengthening pandemic is bound to crush the entire world’s economy.
Globally, economies are usually divided into three major sectors; manufacturing and production, service and agriculture. During the pandemic, the agricultural, industrial and service sectors have been halted in order to contain the spread of the virus. Over 90 percent of economic activities have completely stopped due to the enactment of mandatory physical distancing rules .
Similarly, Nepal’s financial sector is also bound to be severely hit. However, there are several ways that our country’s economic sectors can achieve stability during these times. According to a 2018/19 economic survey, manufacturing & production were estimated to contribute 5.6% of the country’s GDP, which is less than others. Almost 60% of the total GDP is contributed by the service sector. Since travel and tourism are Nepal’s core competency, about 240 billion Rupees was generated and 1 million jobs were created directly or indirectly in 2019, contributing around 7 to 8% to the country’s total GDP.
It is a well known fact that Nepal is an agriculture-based economy. Almost 66% of the total population is involved in either formal or informal levels of agriculture. However, although having an agricultural-based economy, the country still imports about 2 billion dollar worth of products. As such, only 27% of the country’s total GDP is contributed by agriculture, and consequently, Nepal’s agriculture economy has not yet prospered.
On the other hand. remittance has been the backbone of Nepal’s economy. Like countries such as Tonga, Kyrgyzstan, Haiti, Tajikistan, Nepal fully relies on revenue generated from the remittance of migrant workers, most of whom have returned from gulf countries, after all national and international flights were banned since the start of the lockdown.
According to reports of officials and stakeholders, almost 4.5 million migrant workers will be unemployed due to the extension of lockdown, depending on the progression or ease of the pandemic. Unemployment rates will skyrocket in the upcoming months, making it a pressing issue that the government needs to raise and address.
Can our government handle the upcoming tsunami of unemployment? No. However, it can control the severity, as every problem comes with an opportunity to learn and do better. Youths who intend to work as migrant workers and those who have returned during this time must be rehabilitated in this pandemic. Additionally, the lower middle class are crushed in this lockdown because they don’t have a safety net i.e., insurance and savings. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CNS), almost 60 lakh workers have already lost their jobs.
As mentioned above, although Nepal is an agricultural based country, it is still unable to produce the required amount of agricultural product to sustain its own economy. However, that does not mean that it is not incapable. But in order to strengthen it and to be self sufficient in agriculture, effort from the youth and the government are most essential.
The Foreign Employment Act of 2007 clearly stipulates the criteria for mobilizing the fund, explicitly taking into reference the situation of ‘return and repatriation’ of Nepali migrant workers as one of the conditions. Using this provision as a base, youth migrants would be able to contribute their skills towards the agricultural sector. With so many Nepalis having returned from abroad, it is also the perfect time to utilise their manpower.
But in order to do so, the government must first fulfill certain requirements such as providing proper schemes, subsidies, reliefs, commercializing agriculture, focusing on infrastructure, providing agro-trainings to both experienced and inexperienced farmers, introducing land reform for demographic distribution and scientific cultivation of land and providing micro credits.
Ultimately, it is a matter of “now or never.” If the government still fails to commercialize agriculture in the country by the end of this pandemic, the current economic crisis is surely only going to get worse.