Cooperatives, Corporate, and Organic Farming: Asta-Ja for Grassroots-based Agricultural Development

Cooperatives, Corporate, and Organic Farming: Asta-Ja for Grassroots-based Agricultural Development

Prof. Durga D. Poudel, School of Geosciences
University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana, USA

Almost 68% of Nepal’s nearly 29 million people depend on agriculture for livelihoods. Nepalese agriculture contributes about 33% to national GDP. The National Sample Census of Agriculture 2011/12 showed a total of 3,715,555 households engaged in crop production (having > 0.01 ha land) and 115,538 households engaged in the production of livestock only (having < 0.01 ha land) in Nepal. About 90% of agricultural land is devoted to the production of cereal crops and remaining 10% under cash crops; and, the Terai, Hills, and Mountain regions contain, respectively, 70%, 26% and 4% of total agricultural land.

Nepal’s agricultural productivity is at a very low level. In order to increase agricultural productivity, timely availability of improved seeds and other agricultural inputs, access to sustainable technologies and practices, and presence of required infrastructure for agricultural development is necessary. Conversion of agricultural lands to other uses is another major problem in Nepal. In 2015, total agricultural land area dropped to 4,228,548 hectare, which was less than 142,262 hectare as compared to 2001. Widespread degradation of agricultural lands due to soil erosion, compaction, depletion of plant nutrients, acidification, soil pollution, destruction of soil structure, loss of soil carbon, and decline on soil biodiversity is another major concern. Land degradation is also occurring due to landslides, debris flow and deposition, sedimentation, river cutting, overgrazing, and deforestation.

Nepal’s agricultural trade indicators over the past four decades show a very alarming trend. Nepal had an agricultural trade balance of US $14.3 million in 1979-80 which turned into a negative agricultural trade balance of US $151.6 million in 2002, and an import of agricultural goods worth over US $2 billion in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. There is a widespread concern among local communities, national media, farmers, agriculturists, intellectuals, policy makers, and other stakeholders in relation to increasing agricultural imports, food safety and security, agricultural unemployment, outmigration of farming communities, land abandonment, and the conversion of agricultural lands in the country.

About a decade ago, I published a groundbreaking framework of Asta-Ja meaning eight Ja in Nepali letter, Jal (water), Jamin (land), Jungle (forest), Jadibuti (medicinal and aromatic plants), Janshakti (manpower), Janawar (animal), Jarajuri (crop plants) and Jalabayu (climate) as fundamental resources for economic development and socio-economic transformation in Nepal. This publication has been followed by a series of other publications on Asta-Ja Framework, which include, policy framework, strategic framework, capacity building framework, management of Asta-Ja system and the focus of Asta-Ja on national planning and development. Asta-Ja Framework suggests “Jalabayu” as the driving force for all other elements (Jal, Jamin, Jungle, Jadibuti, Janashakti, Janawar, and Jarajuri) and require full consideration of all eight elements while utilizing Asta-Ja resources for economic development. For example, for sustainable crop production (i.e. Jarajuri), all other seven Jas must be well utilized, conserved and developed. In other words, no sustainable crop production is possible without conservation of land, forest, water, availability of appropriate Janashakti, and adequate consideration of Jalabayu. Medicinal and aromatic plants could be incorporated in agricultural system. The eight principles of Asta-Ja Framework: community awareness, capacity-building, policy decision making, comprehensive assessment, interrelationships and linkages, sustainable technology and practices; institutions, trade and governance, and sustainable socio-economic transformation and community development provide practical guidelines for design and successful implementation of policies and programs relating to Asta-Ja resources at the grassroots level.

Asta-Ja Framework along with Michael E. Porter’s Four-diamond model can guide us in developing agriculture as a vibrant and sustainable enterprise. Competitive price and product differentiation are critical elements for national competitiveness according to Porter’s model. Nepalese agricultural produce should be cheaper than foreign produce and there should be clear differentiation between Nepalese agricultural produce and the foreign ones. Nepal has competitive advantage on organic agriculture. High hills in Nepal are best suited for off-season/in season fruits and vegetables, vegetable seeds, and other high-value agriculture. Smallholder farming coupled with favorable agroecological conditions put Nepal in exceptionally advantageous situation for organic agriculture. Organic production will increase the competitiveness of Nepalese agriculture especially fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, pigs, goats, spices, and fish. For cereals, an increase on agricultural productivity could be the short-term goal, while organic cereal production could be the long-term goal.

Nepalese agriculture could be very competitive internationally if handled correctly. There are five drivers of agricultural development in Nepal.

They are:

  1. Smallholder mixed farming system,
  2. Incentives,
  3. Pro-poor market,
  4. Infrastructure, and
  5. Policies and programs.

These five drivers of agricultural development must the focal points while designing agricultural development strategies and programs in Nepal. Just like the Dutch are implementing “Circular Agriculture” to enhance sustainability of their farms and agriculture, Nepal must promote mixed-farming system for sustainable agriculture and competitiveness. Negative aspect of open border especially in agriculture is a major challenge for development. Obviously, various policy measures including strict border control and restrictions, product certification, eco-labeling, and community awareness would be necessary.

The cooperative movement has become the top national agenda of the Government of Nepal since the 1950s. Currently, a total number of 34,512, with a total membership number of 6,305,581 operate in Nepal. These include: savings and credit (13,578), multipurpose (4,371), agriculture (10,921), milk (1,658), consumer (1,423), fruits and vegetables (193), tea (108), coffee (155), Jadibuti (184), bee keeping (93), communication (143), health (128), sugarcane (48), Junar (45), and other coops (999). Agricultural cooperatives can take part in production agriculture at the local level. They can also take part on local level agri- marketing (input supplies, output collection, small-scale processing/packaging). Price guarantees and support, crop and livestock insurance, value-chain, branding, capacity-building, and farm machinery would be some of the key areas that cooperatives need help from the government.

Supply chain management always has been a major challenge for efficient production and marketing of agricultural commodities. Many farmers are struggling for better prices for their produce, governmental support, and marketing of their commodities. On the other hand, the rising urban population is resulting in increasing demand for food and other commodities. Small cooperatives formed in rural areas are not capable of undertaking bigger roles in processing, packaging, storage, and marketing of agricultural products primarily due to their limitations on capital and human resources, smaller volume of produce, lack of knowledge, and lack of necessary infrastructures. Therefore, regional and national marketing initiatives need to be undertaken by corporate or private businesses, corporations, or other joint venture entities who can invest in the necessary logistics, transportation, storage, and human resources. This brings an opportunity for vertical integration of cooperatives with corporate or private businesses, corporations, and similar other companies in the agricultural supply chain.

Nepalese diaspora can contribute to agricultural development through joint ventures together with Nepal’s financing agencies and local investors on agribusinesses. They can invest on a wide spectrum of agro-industries, value addition, water harnessing, irrigation, agri-tourism, laboratory facilities, and local business. Nepalese diaspora keep high potential for small, medium, or even large investment. Appropriate policies, rules, and regulations and possibly some incentives should be in place in order to attract private investments from Nepalese diaspora.


  • This paper is based on the author’s remarks as a panelist and responses to the questions from the floor at a panel discussion forum “Diaspora’s Role in Nepal’s Development” organized by Nepali National Convention (NNC) Baltimore, MD, USA 2019, on July 6, 2019.
  • For live streaming (recorded) of the panel discussion:


  • References will be provided if needed
  • @telegraphnepal

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