Food security for more than 600,000 people in the western hills of Nepal is set to deteriorate, aid agencies warn.
With already low agricultural production in the more food-insecure areas, inflation is exacerbating matters further.
“A lot of villagers are opting for more desperate coping mechanisms,” Richard Ragan, country representative for the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN in Kathmandu.
Many villagers are already reducing the number of meals they eat each day, cutting portions, or migrating to urban areas or India for work, he said.
“In a desperate attempt to buy food, families are even selling their livestock and household assets and the out-migration [to Nepali cities and India] has increased already by 40 percent,” Ragan said.
Typifying that reality is Chattra Bahadur Chettri, a farmer from the western district of Bajura working in the Nepalese capital.
“I came here with my children to avoid any more hardship,” the 50-year-old said.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the cost of staple food items such as rice, pulses and wheat is as high or even higher than at the peak of the international food crisis in August 2008.
Rice, a staple part of the Nepalese diet, has increased from US$0.34 per kg in 2008 to over $0.50 this year, local traders say.
With no increase in income and unemployment on the rise, even a slight increase in price has a knock-on effect on people’s purchasing power, WFP notes.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
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Food inflation is already up by 20 percent, the Federation of Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industries reported, leaving food increasingly unaffordable for poorer families, many of whom live on less than $1 a day.
As one of the poorest nations in the world, 31 percent of the country’s 28 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line with each person surviving on less than $1 a day, according to the World Bank.
More than 80 percent of the people living in rural areas depend mostly on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, according to the FAO.
Bajura, nearly 500km northwest of the capital, is regarded as the most food-insecure district, according to the Nepal Food Security Monitoring System (NeKSAP) initiated by government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and WFP.
The district was badly affected by drought in 2009 when there was no rain for six months from August to January.
NeKSAP frequently analyses information on household food security, markets and nutrition in more remote regions through its district networks.
“If I don’t find any work here, we will go to India after selling my goats and house,” said Chettri, who explained that many villagers like him were now intent on leaving their homes and moving to other districts where food was more readily available.
Already 87 percent of Bajura’s population (nearly 125,000) is food-insecure.
In Humla, another remote hill district, 700km northwest of the capital, nearly 85 percent of its population (almost 50,000) is suffering from food insecurity, NeKSAP estimates.
Other vulnerable districts include Mugu, Kalikot, Jumla, Dailekh, Accham, Doti, Bajhang, Darchula and Baitadi.
“These are the areas which already suffer from very low agricultural production and the situation has been made worse by food inflation,” Narendra Khadga Chettri, director of Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal, said.
With monsoon rains expected in June and lasting until September, there is now concern about the risks of landslides and floods - more external shocks in what is already a precarious food situation, according to the FAO.