Tue, Mar 27, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Bountiful South: Sowing seeds: Taiwan’s agriculture development with Nepal

A research center in Pingtung is training a cohort of 26 Nepali scholarship students to harness Taiwan’s expertise so as to transform their country’s agriculture industry, sowing the seeds for future ties with the Himalayan nation

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing Reporter

Nepali scholarship students gather with Professor Ladnath Kafle, center, outside the front gate of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology in January.

Photo courtesy of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology

Shankar Panthi was in Dastinkali temple when the earth began to shake. As the tremors shook the foundations, he fled and joined other worshipers in a rush down to Kathmandu city some 20km in the valley below. Panthi slept rough on the bare ground until finally making contact with his family three days later.

Hearing his voice, his mother came undone with emotion.

“We are here with you Shankar,” she said through tears.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 killed about 9,000 people, injured nearly 17,000 and left millions displaced and without food. In the wake of the tragedy, Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) initiated three humanitarian aid projects — two aimed at bolstering the country’s food security. The organization’s first foray into the Himalayan nation concluded last November, but it has opened new doors for Taiwan-Nepal partnership in education.

Lee Pai-po (李柏浡), ICDF Deputy Secretary-General, says that it became obvious on the ground that there was a match between the Nepali farmer’s deeper needs and the kind of agricultural expertise Taiwan is renowned for.

Three years after the earthquake, Panthi is in Taiwan learning the practical skills and expertise needed to not only see Nepal through similar disasters in the future, but develop to become an agriculturally self-sufficient country. He was joined by 25 other Nepalese who were awarded scholarships to study at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology’s Department of Tropical Agriculture, an initiative led by the Ministry of Education’s New Southbound Policy program.

“We need to be strong enough to support ourselves,” says Nepali program director and long-term Taiwan resident, Leknath Kafle. “For that we need to learn from Taiwan’s smart agriculture.”

CULTIVATION NATION?

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) says 66 percent of Nepal’s population are engaged in farming, which, according to World Bank data, accounted for a third of its GDP in 2016. Despite this, crop failures and food shortages are chronic, meaning half of Nepali children are underweight, with malnutrition being the highest cause of death.

Kafle says a lack of specialized research, shortage of critical irrigation infrastructure as well as obstacles to market access are the chief reasons why Nepal’s agriculture remains largely subsistence-based. He adds that knowledge gleaned from Taiwan’s research on rice cultivation, Nepal’s stable crop, is of particular benefit to his country.

Lee says the difference in harvest is noticeable — one hectare of rice paddies in Nepal yields roughly two tons of rice, as opposed to six tons in Taiwan. He adds that many Nepali farmers have used the same rice variety for decades, whereas Taiwanese farmers develop new cultivars every two to three years, which generates greater yields over the long-term.

Kafle also points to advanced research on soil orders, which has allowed Taiwan to expand the potential range of plants produced in a given area, for example growing sub-tropical fruits like oranges and pears in tropical areas. Nepal’s tropical lowlands, the terai region, makes up only 17 percent of its total territory, but is the most fertile and accessible, being relatively flat.

Kafle says that if Nepal were to do the same in its fertile and accessible tropical lowlands, it would considerably raise not only the output but also diversify the range of produce available and stimulate demand for higher value cash crops.

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