Nepal: Debased “Agrarian Transformation”

Professor Upendra Gautam

Consolidated Management Services (CMS) Nepal PVT. LTD

Consortium for Land Research and Policy Dialogue (COLARP) has published a book entitled Land, Agriculture and Agrarian Transformation in Nepal.  The editors of the book are Kailash Nath Pyakuryal and Bishnu Raj Upreti.

The book, in all fairness, seems to be the product of a proletarian conscience as it is dedicated to, to quote the editors, "Millions of rural people who nurture the nation but have remained themselves unattended and discriminated against."

In addition to book framework and chapter inputs by the editors, their collaborative efforts, triggered by proletarian conscience, of several like-minded individual contributors, including Yamuna Ghale, Lisha Shrestha, Kalawati Rai, Mahima Neupane, Deependra Bahadur Kshetry, Purna Nepali, Shreesti Singh Shrestha, Samanaa Adhikari, Jagat Basnet, Niraj Joshi, Keshav Acharya, Hikmat Bhandari, YB Thapa and Tulasi Sharan Sigdel have helped materialize the publication attempt.  The editors must be appreciated for their social capital and competence to mobilize domestic individual contributions and international institutional support in bringing the book out.

While the editors in chapter one provide the "Setting of the context" on land, agriculture and agrarian change, other contributors, individually or jointly, write on the problems like right to food security; land-based relationship between agrarian tension, armed conflict and human insecurity; struggle for existence of the small farms; land reform and agrarian transformation; landlessness and agrarian change; poverty reduction by re-orienting agricultural research, extension and education; macro-economy for agrarian transformation; political economy of agrarian transformations, and political economy of conflict and agrarian change. The editors and contributors have made, to the extent of the availability and relevance, good use of not only official data, but also photos and boxes with cases depicting marginalization, deprivation, gender inequality, bonded labor, sustainable agricultural practices and land right movements.

In a most precise sense, despite the prevailing 21st century jargon and acuteness reportedly brought by climate change and the insurgency of the Nepali Maoists in land, agriculture and agrarian relations, the greatest value the book possesses in the context of the Nepali society perhaps lies in its ability to comprehensively update the many facets of exploitative land, agricultural and agrarian relations that impact marginalizing the grater number of rural farming people-whatever their caste, ethnic, gender, regional or language affiliation. 

Given the historicity of the book, its framework and analyses simply substantiate what  John T. Hitchcock  (The Magars of Banyan Hill, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York, 1966), Bedh Prakash Upreti (“Limbuwan Today: Process and Problems,” Contribution to Nepalese Studies, Journal of the Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Vol. 3, No. 2, September 1976), Dilli Ram Dahal, Navin Kumar Rai and Andrew E. Manzardo (Land and Migration in Far-Western Nepal, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, May 1977), Thomas E. Fricke (Himalayan Households, Tamang Demography and Domestic Processes, Book Faith India, Delhi, 1993), Shamima Siddika  (Muslims of Nepal, Gazala Siddika, Kathmandu, 1993), Ulrike Muller-Boker (The Chitawan Tharus in Southern Nepal, an Ethnoecological Approach, Nepal Research Center, Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart, 1999), Alan Macfarlane (Resources and Population, a Study of the Gurungs of Nepal, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2003) had in the last forty years variably explained  the basic causes of increasing exploitation, deprivation and marginalization of the greater number of rural farming people in Nepal.

Mahesh C. Regmi, a well known Nepali scholar of land tenure system, recognized long ago that systems of land tenure develop within the framework of a political philosophy and its general policies toward property in land (Landownership in Nepal, Adroit Publishers, Delhi, 1999, first Indian reprint).

But no government in Nepal has taken consistent and systematic initiative to address the land ownership issue in a fair and productive manner. Even for governments formed after the restoration of multi-party and people's democracy after 1989, land reform essentially meant reduction in the land ownership ceiling. Mere “reductionist” land reform has not made any substantial change anywhere in the anachronistic and deprivationary land ownership system because it does not go for agrarian changes in the existing institution of land ownership system. The reductionist land reform never addresses the power structure, which is based on existing institution of land ownership system. The existing land ownership system lives on the interest of the landed aristocracy-old and new. It was unlikely for such a system to introduce agrarian reform that empowers the common people by enabling them to be linked with the local as well as national governance process through participation in resource management and use. As the landed aristocracy at home had a nexus with the colonial expansionist interest that has been well entrenched since British-Nepali war in mid 1810s, the land reform could not be more than a mere reductionist one. The following words of Yadu Nath Khanal may illustrate the historical nexus and its effects. He writes, “So far as the people are concerned, Anglo-Nepalese camaraderie did not prove beneficial. The Rana reality in Nepal and the British Indian reality cooperated consciously as well as unconsciously in insulating the people from the system of government” (Nepal After Democratic Restoration, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu, Nepal, 1996).

At this juncture, a question that arises is: Is it the historical nexus between the landed aristocracies at home and abroad, and the Nepali common people and institutions’ increased deprivation and say over land that are debasing the Nepali State from its basic element of land and territory? (Upendra Gautam, "Nepal: Politics of Landed Aristocracy", Nepal Post, Dec. 2004-Jan-Feb 2005). The new book not only acts as an expose’ of the “agrarian transformation” in Nepal, but also provides a more comprehensive documentary evidence on the hollowness of the political parties' commitment to it. Officials, mainly the policy makers, may be rendered a bit wise if they read this book for honest “agrarian transformation.”

Prof. Gautam, PhD, is associated with Consolidated Management Services (CMS) Nepal PVT. LTD.

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