COVID-19 Response through Connecting Migrations to Farm Mechanization and Services Provision in Rural Nepal
Across Nepal, COVID-19 pandemic cases were at an all-time high and predicted to double each week; quarantine facilities and hospitals were full. COVID-19 cases are no longer confined to urban areas, but rural areas and highly remote villages, including the farm households in the Feed the Future Zone of Influence in the Terai. COVID-19 adds additional uncertainties to existing climate stresses and risks, and makes rural families the most vulnerable, being under additional financial pressure to meet their basic needs.
More than 3.5 million Nepalis are estimated to work abroad, many in India. However, now an average of 4,000 people have been returning from India and elsewhere into the western districts of Nepal each day. The return migrants are predominantly laborers who have lost their jobs. With an increased number of young men looking for job opportunities, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is now implementing a buy-in project that develops mechanisms to support longer-term resilience among smallholder farmers and the private sector — with emphasis on empowering youth and overcoming challenges faced by rural families in Nepal.
Expanding scale-appropriate farm machinery
By identifying migrants who have returned back to their villages due to COVID-19 and linking them with machinery dealers, the project will work to turn crisis into opportunity and aims to boost agricultural machinery services provisions through empowering rural youth entrepreneurs. To achieve this, CSISA facilitates the purchase of land preparation, planting, irrigation and harvesting machinery, and supports young migrants to develop business models that support the rural economy with the supply of affordable fee-for-services to farmer cooperatives in COVID-19-impacted districts.
Linking service providers to create demand and build resilience
Through telephone surveys, the project aims to track the availability and movement of agricultural machines, as well as the development of custom hiring centers. This will support service providers to have better connection to farmers demanding services in COVID-19-affected areas, as well as emergency mechanic’s services. In addition, voucher or similar systems to reduce investment costs for access to service provisions for the poorest and female farmers will be developed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reorganized the social groups of labor in rural Nepal and highlighted the importance, as well as the fragility, of rural agricultural production. The project has identified the most effective entry provision during the crisis. While these actions are being implemented in the context of a market-disruptive pandemic, they stand to become essential tools beyond this crisis. As the COVID-19-related stresses reduce in the future, these actions will be able to boost good farmer practices further and be more prepared for future shocks that will strike the country in the future.