Food Security and Nutrition Situation of Nepal


28 Nov 2017

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Submitted by:

  • Bibek Thapa
  • Bidhya Gautam
  • Binod Rana
  • Chandan Shilpakar
  • Chiran Adhikari
  • Chura Mani Bhusal 
  • Dipak Shahi
  • Deny Kumar Shrestha
  • Dev Raj Gupta


Nepal is a food deficit, land locked and least developed country, having a population of more than 27 million people. Around 31 percent people in the country live below poverty level. Around 49.3 percent of under-five children are chronically malnourished. Globally, Nepal ranks 144th out of 182 countries in terms of its Human Development Index (UNDP, 2009). Annual population growth rate of the country is 2.2 percent. It is estimated that the country's population in 2025 will reach 40.5 million, with anticipated difficulties of fulfilling the food requirements. Nepalese economy dominated by agriculture, 65.6 % of total population is directly or indirectly depend on agriculture. Since last couple of years, population dependent on agriculture have been decreased (Sanjel, 2005). Apart from the small holding, other sources of income are livestock, wages, migration, etc. Of total income, 48 % from farm, 28 % from off-farm, 11 % from foreign remittance and 13 % from other source (WFP & MoAC, 2009).

Table 1: Nepal HDI Trend















Source: HDR, 2009


The geography, political situation and cultural practices in the country are diverse. People's access to health facilities, schooling, employment opportunities and hygiene and care practices is limited. After 10 years of armed conflict (1996 -2006), the country is under a transitional period of establishing constitutional democracy after signing of a peace accord in November 2006 and the Constituent Assembly election held in April 2008. The decade long insurgency caused a loss of 13,347 lives in the country (UNDP, 2009 a).


Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The concept of food security has four pillars (availability, access, utilization and stability). The issue of food security is multidimensional, that varies across countries, social groups and time.

Widespread poverty is the major cause for food insecurity. Food insecurity and hunger remain pervasive in Nepal, not only in food deficit districts but also within marginalized communities in districts with surplus food production. Food and financial crisis is gradually increasing, chronic food insecurity since 1990 in Western hills (Adhikari and Bhole, 1999), and total number of food insecure people are 6.9 million (OCHA, 2008). Feudalism and labor arrangement system are also the reason for food insecurity. Consequences of food insecurity are that poor have already exhausted their saving to buy food, sold the property and increased school dropout. There is a correlation between areas of high poverty and high malnutrition and areas of most impacted by conflict.

Nationally, 47 % of the land owning HHs owned only 15 % of the land with an average size of less than 0.5 ha, whereas the top 5 % owned nearly 37 % of land. A recent rough estimate by WFP stated that the minimum amount of land required for HHs self-sufficiency is approximately 0.54 ha (OCHA, 2008).


Food Availability

Availability of food is affected by insufficient agricultural productivity, inadequate rural infrastructure, and seasonal food shortages. In aggregate and percentage terms, the deficit is usually 3-5% of total utilization in cereal equivalent. Situation of food availability and access are very unevenly distributed over the country, and areas with the lowest production and greatest deficit per capita also tend to be the ones with low incomes, highest rates of overty and malnutrition, and they are often the most remote and inaccessible. Since 1990, at national level, overall food production is deficit and Nepal has been a net cereal importer for most years during the last two decades (FAO, 2008).

Table 2: Food Deficit for 2009


Deficit (Mt)



Wheat and barley






Source: WFP Food security bulletin -24, August 2009

The Hill and Mountain regions are particularly food deficit and more vulnerable to drought. The low production is largely due to the predominance of rain fed agriculture, traditional farming practices, limited agri-input, inadequate technical advice for farmers due to poor extension services, poverty and limited availability of credit, and frequent droughts and floods. In addition, the conflict has reduced farmers’ access to production inputs and markets and reduced the motivation of farmers, producers and traders to expand their activities. The lack of growth in crop production greatly limits the potential for crop diversification which leads to nutritionally unbalanced and poorly diversified HH food consumption patterns. Only around 40 % of rural households produce enough food to meet their year round needs. A 3.4 million land holdings produce barely enough food to meet six months of household food needs. Average farm size is less than 0.8 ha and the parcels are scattered rendering difficulty for commercialization and management care. Reduction in % of agricultural household from 83 % (1995) to 78 % (2003/04) and significantly in average size of land holding (CBS 2004).

Livestock contributes about 30 % to agricultural GDP and projected to rise to 45 % by 2015. According to NLSS (2004), livestock accounts for about 20 % of total agricultural income, after crops (50 %). It is also a major household asset used to mitigate short-term shocks (FAO, 2008).

Food Access:

Physical and financial causes affect food access and it is restricted due to scarce nonagricultural

Income possibilities, limited access to productive resources, lack of functioning services and substandard managerial and organizational capacity. This is a measure of a household's entitlement to food. A 2008 WFP’s study shows that 75 % of surveyed HHs did not have sufficient access to food, and more than 95 % of very poor HHs had insufficient access to food.

Food Utilization:

Proper food utilization requires proper food handling, adequate education on health and nutrition, child care, hygiene and sanitation, health care, etc. A total of 55% to 85% of drinking water sources are micro-biologically contaminated (OCHA, 2008).

Stability/Vulnerability to Food

HHs and individuals must have access to food at all times, either fresh or processed. However, sometimes they can be affected by external shocks (droughts, floods, conflict, poor political and economic governance and climatic crisis or seasonal food insecurity) and internal shocks (loss of income, illness).


According to FAO, in developing country, 60 -80 % of total food production is contributed by women, and they have been engaged in subsistence farming (Kantipur, 2009). Capacity building of women in different sectors contributes to improve the livelihoods of the family, community and whole country. Almost 100 % women take responsibility for nurturing and care of children, and ideas, believe and practice change of women contributes a lot to improve nutritional status of children and women themselves.


Main reasons for food insecurity are categorized according to four pillars and detail is given in

Annex 3:


• Low agricultural production and productivity and high population growth

• Small land holding

• Feudalism and labor management

• Misuse of food commodities

• Dependency syndrome on food aid.


• Unequal food distribution

• Lack of road network and market in remote area

• Lack of emergency backup services

• Poor purchasing capacity of people

• Social and geographical disparities and exclusion.


• Lack of awareness on nutrition and food habit

• High levels of malnutrition

• Poor basic services

• High disease incidence.

Stability/Vulnerability to Food

• Low income

• Frequent disaster

• Social conflict

• Poor political and economic governance and other

• No functioning of traditional/indigenous community food safety net.


According to international law, every human being has rights to be freed from hunger and rights to have safe and nutritious food. Universal declaration on human rights, Conventions on Child Rights and other international legal documents have ensured the rights of food. Nepal does not have a comprehensive food security policy addressing the different dimensions of food security; however, food security and nutrition have been included in different policy document.

Nepal Interim Constitution (2007)

The interim constitution has recognized food sovereignty as the fundamental human right and guaranteed some important rights which are relevant to ensure the legal entitlement on the food security. It guarantees the right to life (art. 12.1) and rights to employment and social security (article 16). For the first time in Nepal, constitution also guarantees the right to food sovereignty (art. 18.3). Provision of rights of food security for all citizens has been ensured through the article 16 and 33. Similarly, through article 35, provision to improve the food security situation of marginalized community has been ensured. However, these rights are subject to implementing legislation, unfortunately, such specific laws are not yet made. Recently, in a case, interpreting this right, Supreme Court of Nepal issued an interim order to the GON to immediately supply food stuff in food insecure districts (Adhikari, 2009).

Besides these following plan and policies have also ensured food security for Nepalese citizens:

  • Three Year Interim Plan (TYIP - 2007 -2010)
  • Agricultural Development Policies

• Agriculture Perspective Plan (1995-2015)

• Implementation of APP Support Programme (2003-2008)

• National Agriculture Policy (2004)

• Health Sector Policy (2004)

• National Water Plan (2005)

• Forestry Master Plan

• National Transport Master Plan

• Agribusiness Promotion Policy (2006)

• Food and Nutrition Security Plan (2007)

• Milk Development Policy (2007)

• Agriculture Biodiversity Policy (2007)


  1. Government Agencies

Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoAC)

Focused on food production, most of the programs are extension (with very limited research); targeted to production increase, market access and technical support for the farmer. According to NSDRM 2009, this is focal ministry for food security (MoHA, 2009).

Ministry of Local Development (MoLD)

Implements Nepal Food Crisis response program, funded by World Bank (WB), and Food for Work (FFW) programs, material support of WFP and technical support of GTZ, in food deficit districts with the objective of creating rural employment opportunities to the poor through the Rural Community Infrastructure Works (RCIW) Programme consisting of rural road construction and community based projects such as irrigation and soil conservation, school building and other support, health facilities improvement, income generation, etc.

Ministry of Education (MoE)

MoE implements Food for Education (FFE) program with material food support from WFP. It follows an objective of improving nutritional status of school children, school enrolment and attendance of children, particularly girls, by providing a mid-day meal and a take-home ration of oil for girl students. The program is implemented in food deficit districts.

Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP)

Department of Health implements Mother and Child Health Care (MCHC) programme with material support from WFP in collaboration with MoE. The programme aims to improve the health and nutritional status of pregnant and lactating mothers and children (6-36 months) by providing monthly take home ration (fortified nutritious food).

Nepal Food Corporation (NFC)

NFC is currently supplying subsidized food to 30 districts including 22 remote districts across the country (MoAC, WFP and FAO, 2009), where local production is deficit. It follows the Government's food policy with responsibility of collection, transportation, storage, sale and mobilization of food. It also handles food aid received by the country. NFC focuses on providing food to people living around district headquarters, and mostly to government employees.

  1. Line Agencies

World Food Programme (WFP)

WFP works in partnership with MoLD, MoE, MoHP, UN agencies and NGOs through life cycle approach of distributing food from pregnancy stage to adult of women candidates. As of November 2009, WFP coverage is in 22 districts (personal interaction with WFP staff). All interventions are carried out in the food insecure areas identified by Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping (VAM) unit of WFP in close collaboration with the Government.

There are other agencies and some of them are as follows:

  • ActionAid Nepal
  • Agro Enterprise Centre (AEC)
  • DFID,
  • GTZ,
  • Helen Keller International (HKI),
  • WHO


Food security in Nepal depends on land productivity as managed by small holders who face challenges in productivity and sustainability, and the country is prone to natural disasters that can have serious consequences for agricultural production.Additionally, the households that are most likely to be food insecure tended to engage in livelihood activities such as petty trade, unskilled labor, natural resources exploitation, handicrafts, and farming. Nepal has become a net importer of grain in recent years.The key factors causing food insecurity, especially in remote mountain districts, are an increasing population, remoteness (causing lack of transportation and distribution), low income-generating opportunities, and lack of access to food. The issue of food security is multidimensional, that varies across countries, social groups and time. These factors can be grouped in three clusters:

1) Overall socio-economic, political and natural environment

2) Performance of the food economy, and

3) Household level food security influenced by livelihood assets and activities, care practices, and health and sanitation conditions.


In current situation, for food security major thrust has to given to production of food grains, horticulture, fisheries and livestock product through sustainable use of resources. Investing in agriculture has several benefits and as a major sector contributing to economic growth, 38 agriculture has to transform from traditionally subsistent to a vibrant commercial and competitive one. Potentiality for agriculture development should be taped with increasing concerns for irrigation, fertilizer, storage, marketing, improved seeds and breeds, quality control, improved service delivery, research focus on niche areas, credit facility and capable human resources. Improved farming system, planting of fruit and fodder and use of SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) can improve land use and control water induced disaster. Similarly, environment friendly agriculture farm, storage and gene bank are essential but insecticides and pesticides are being haphazardly at commercial scale but effective monitoring is lacking. Required numbers of cold storage are lacking, and farmer is compelled to sell goods at cheaper price.

Strategies, approaches and programme to increase domestic food availability have to emphasize on:

(i) The need for technological change to increase labor, land, input and productivity,

(ii) Improving connectivity to increase market access resulting to reduce the transaction costs of getting inputs and services from market to farm and farm to market, and

(iii) Price guarantees to serve as an incentive to farmers to produce for the market. Increasing production, promoting processing, developing and strengthening business enterprises services, improving marketing efficiency, and reducing food prices, are major avenues to improve food security.


Adhikari, B. 2009. Food Security Related Safety Nets and Legal Empowerment of Poor in Nepal. Report submitted to FAO 2009 November. Kathmandu

CBS, 2004. Nepal Living Standards Survey 2003/04, Statistical report. Volume 1 and 2. Kathmandu. National Planning Commission, Central Bureau of Statistics. Kathmandu

FAO. 2010. Assesment of Food Security and Nutrition Situation of Nepal. Kathmandu.

MoAC, WFP and FAO, 2009. Crop and Food Security Assessment: 2008/09 Winter Drought in Nepal, Joint Assessment Report – May 2009. Kathmandu

MoHA, 2009. National strategy for disaster risk management, 2009. Government of Nepal, Ministry of Home Affairs

OCHA, 2008. Nepal Needs Analysis Framework Key Findings September 20087. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Kathmandu FAO.2008. Nepal Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring/Early System Assessment of Current System, Project Design and Proposal. February 2008. FAO, Rome

Sanjel, N. 2005. PARYAWARAN: Disaster Management Special. Status of Agriculture production and Food security in Nepal. ECO-Nepal, Paryawaran monthly, volume 13, Additional issue, June 2005

UNDP. 2009 a. Nepal Human Development Report 2009: State Transformation and Human Development. UNDP. Kathmandu

WFP and MoAC. 2009. District level food Security Monitoring: Resource material MoAC, Government of Nepal and world Food Programme, Kathmandu Adhikari, J and Bhole, H.J. 1999. Food Crisis in Nepal


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