Image for Representation.
BAJHANG: Sonam Tamang of Dhuli at Saipal Rural Municipality-4 in Bajhang depends on Yarchagumba, a precious medicinal herb collected from the highlands seasonally, to support himself and his seven-member family.
Yarchagumba is the main income source for the family. Except for two elderly people in the family, all five family members went to the highlands to collect yarcha when the yarcha-picking season kicks in. They earned around Rs 600,000 from yarcha every year.
Food production from their farmland can feed them only for one month. It means they have to purchase food for the rest of the months. It requires approximately 11 quintals of rice for the family throughout the year. Last year, the family purchased nine quintals of rice.
The government has been providing subsidized rice in remote districts including Bajhang. The Tamang family got only two and a half quintals of subsidized rice last year. It means they had to purchase the required amount of rice for the family throughout the year at higher prices.
The Tamang family spent over Rs 100,000 in transporting rice required for themselves for a year. The situation is the same in the transport of other essentials, said Sonam. “It costs almost four times the actual prices of essentials when they reach Saipal from Chainpur, the district headquarters. It takes a five-day walk to reach Dhuli of Saipal from Chainpur,” he said.
They have to purchase quintals of rice as rice consumption is higher during winter when two squares of meal a day are served, he said.
Similar is the story of Padam Bohara of Balaudi in Saipal Rural Municipality-5. In general, it requires seven quintals of rice a year for his five-member family. Winter crops like finger millet and barley produced in their farmland feed the family only for one month.
“Last year, I got only one and a half quintals of subsidized rice. The amount of rice lasted only two months. We had to purchase rice at a higher cost for the remaining months,” he said.
Taklakot closure disrupts the food supply
Nepal-China transit at Taklakot has remained closed for the past five years, thus disrupting the supply of essentials. As a result, residents of Saipal have been hit hard. Essentials had been supplied to Saipal from Taklakot as Saipal is near Dhuli. Chinese essentials would be cheaper than the ones provided by the Nepal Food Corporation, they said.
“It has been five years since we faced the food crisis. We started shipping food from the district headquarters when Taklakot transit remained shut. Prices of essentials get four folds higher upon reaching our village from the district headquarters,” said Sonam Tamang, spouse of Sonam.
Before the transit shut, Chinese essentials had got their market in villages of the rural municipality 3, 4, and 5 including Neuna, Balaudi, Latton, Kol, Rajada, Sainagaun, Dhalaun, Airadi, Parali, and Daugaun, said Jaipal Bohara, ward chair of Saipal-5. Foods have been supplied to Dhalaun from both Talkot Rural Municipality and Taklakot.
Two years ago, Saipal went through an acute food crisis. After suffering starvation, Bhim Dhami of Dhuli transported food from Chainpur. Three people including one Gobinda Bohara of Rupatola at Talakot and his brother Pradip supplied one quintal of rice to Dhami. They charged Rs 20,000 (Rs 200 per kg) for the supply.
“We charge Rs 200 per kg in transporting essentials from Rupatola to Dhuli. This is market rate,” said Gobinda. It charges Rs 22,500 per quintal of rice (moto rice) to transport to Dhuli of Saipal carried by people. And the charges go down to Rs 13,000 per quintal through mules. “Mules can carry goods only during winter. During monsoon, people should carry goods as mules cannot wade through flooded rivers and streams,” said Jiban Bohara of Neuna.
It charges Rs 180 per kg to transport goods carried by people from Kaldanda to Neuna through Kirkitya, Rs 190 up to Balaudi, and Rs 200 to Dhuli, said Gobinda. “We carried goods to Saipal four or five times a month. We generally carried iron items and utensils. We charged by kg. Foods have been supplied through mules in most cases,” said Jiban.
Problems in the bidding process
It has been years since the people of Saipal endured food problems. Despite the clamor for food, no help has arrived yet. The local level has been knocking on the door of Singha Durbar in Kathmandu, the federal capital, every year for food management for the local level which has around 3,000 population, but to no avail as of now.
Former chair of the Rural Municipality Rajendra Dhami visited Baluwatar in Kathmandu, the official residence of the Prime Minister, four times when he was in office. Sitting chair and vice chair of the Rural Municipality Manbir Bohara and Dolma Tamang respectively visited Kathmandu three times this year for the management of food for the villages.
In general, Saipal got rice only after drawing the attention of the Prime Minister in Kathmandu, said Dhami. “There is always a food problem in the village due to a lack of a depot here,” he said, adding that the rampant supply of food by contractors has added to the problem.
There has been bidding to supply 2,500 quintals of rice to Saipal in the current fiscal year, 2022/23. One Devraj Joshi won the contract. However, only 1,500 quintals have been supplied so far around two months remain to complete the current FY, said the Rural Municipality chair Manbir.
Saipal requires 5,000 quintals of rice every year, he said. But, negligence in supplying rice has made the matter worse, he said.
“Food crisis has hit so much that local people are forced to be dependent on edible wild roots and tubers. On the other hand, it seems contractors are apathetic in transporting rice,” he said, adding, “We should have got the supply of 2,500 quintals of rice before the Dashain festival some seven months ago. There was a plan to supply additional 2,500 quintals in the second phase. But, the contractor has failed to complete the first installment of rice supply even 10 months into the two months remaining of the current FY.”
Even whatever supply of rice made to the local level has been captured by a certain group of people, he said.
“Local people cannot afford to purchase rice in bulk. Traders and those who can afford have purchased and stocked a large quantity of rice, thus causing a shortage, it has been heard,” he said.
There is no uniformity in the distribution of subsidized rice as villages of the Rural Municipality unevenly got rice, said Chief District Officer Narayan Pandey.
“It seems that subsidized rice was distributed rampantly. Some villages got rice that would feed locals for four or five months while some others got only a few quantities,” he said. Ward chairs have been asked to take initiatives in distributing subsidized rice and salt evenly, he added.