North South Corridor-Road to Prosperity

Spotlight, April 27-May 03, 2007

By Keshab Poudel

For Dilli Mahat, 32, a resident of Khalanga district headquarters of Jumla district, one of the main achievements of Jumla-Surkhet road link was to see the apple imported from Kashmir ferried by mini truck in the inaugural trip.

Because of lack of transportation facilities, Jumla’s residents are compelled to dump tons of fresh apples produced during July-August season. After looking at the truck carrying apple, Mahat now visualizes that soon the apple grown in the district will reach the market of south and across the border.

We can supply fresh apple to Nepalgunj next year as the road links our village with the rest of country and across the border,” said Mahat. “Till a year ago, we had a problem on how to export our surplus apple to Nepalgunj and Surkhet but now it seems that we have to worry on how to compete with the apple exported from India.”

Mahat’s worry is genuine. Merely linking the road cannot bring prosperity and transform economy of Jumla. What is required now is to exploit the competitive advantages of Jumla and places along the road corridor so that poor people of the region can benefit.

The World Bank’s Nepal: Interim Strategy Note argues that high transport cost and lack of connectivity are major impediments to Nepal’s development. Despite ecological advantages over southern market, places like Jumla’s products have high cost discouraging farmers to grow cash crops.

Situated in northern hills of Nepal, Jumla has many ecological advantages to produce agriculture products that southern plain districts cannot produce.

When the temperature in south rises for rice production, the temperature of Jumla and Kalikot of northern region is suitable to grow the cauliflower and other fresh vegetables.

Road networks have many advantages including exchanging goods along the corridor and outside the corridor. Following the completion of east-west highway, Nepal was integrated but it did not bring any transformation in the lives of people of north where poverty and illiteracy is rampant. Despite the huge ecological advantage to produce competitive agriculture products, only a few northern hilly towns were linked to south.

“The completion of road is major breakthrough in the history of Nepal’s road transportation. Following opening of the road, it also opens market access of other parts of the country to the products of Jumla, Kalikot and other nearby districts,” said Dr. Jagdish Chandra Pokharel, vice chairman of National Planning Commission (NPC).

With full ecological advantages, 232 kilometers long Surkhet-Jumla road corridor can be a boon for the local population as the climate provides it with the best advantage to compete with outside districts.

According to Human Development Index, Karnali Zone is one of the most backward regions of Nepal. From average income to average life expectancy, it is at the lowest rung. With an aim to benefit poor farmers living in north-south corridor of Surkhet Jumla and Chhinchu-Jajarkot road corridor, CEAPRED has been launching LLP since last year.

Encouraging local marginalised farmers to produce the off-season vegetables along the Dharan-Hille road corridor in eastern Nepal, CEAPRED has already gained experiences on how the road corridor can be used to bring the tremendous change in the livelihoods of poor and marginalized farmers.

Although LLP is in the initial phase of implementation, the people living along the road corridor have shown that this is what they require to transform their livelihood.

“The overall goal of the program is to contribute to sustainable rural poverty reduction in Nepal by operationalizing and piloting the north-south corridor development approach introduced by government’s tenth plan,” said Dr. Piush Mishra, executive director of CEPARED. “Along with off season vegetables, Surkhet-Jumla corridor also has comparative advantages potential for non timber products. Our efforts are to integrate the corridor with market in south so that farmers in north can enjoy their advantages.”

The target beneficiaries of LLP are 5000 rural poor and disadvantaged families including marginal farmers, landless families and women headed households and internally displaced persons located within a reasonable hinter road areas along the road corridor. “The project covers 17 VDCs of three districts comprising of 65 wards. In these areas, the project has revitalized 42 existing groups and 104 new groups have been formed covering 3198 households,” said Dr. Mishra.

Under the economic empowerment program, LLP has identified various sectors. In vegetable production, 1202 households have been involved. According to the project, they have been provided with required inputs to grow fresh vegetables in their kitchen garden.

“A total of 78 goats with 2 male goats have been distributed to seven groups covering 172 households under goat exchange program. Out of seven groups, three groups have been rearing goats in collective manner. One collective pig rearing group, belonging to Janjati women has been formed and three piglets have been distributed on an exchange program. Similarly, 460 poultry birds have been provided to two groups. A total of 46 households have been involved in this program,” said Dr. Mishra.

From providing technical knowledge and capacity of farmers to develop a market to sell their products, the LLP will launch its first program in Kalikot in the coming year by mobilizing the local communities.

“We have started some activities in Surkhet-Jumla road corridor with a north south corridor development approach. In a particular part of the year, Surkhet produces certain commodities what Jumla cannot produce because the temperature of Jumla is much lower and vice versa. If you can develop the production system in such a way that links the opportunities that exist in Jumla to markets of Surkhet and further down to the market of Nepalgunj up to the market of India, then the opportunities that you can tap because of natural capital that exist in Jumla can lead to better growth not only in Jumla but also across the corridor because the products that Jumla can produce can have market along the corridor as well as down the corridor,” said Dr. Hari Krishna Upadhyaya, chairman of CEAPRED.

The newly opened road corridor of Surkhet-Jumla covers Surkhet, Dailekh, Kalikot and Jumla districts. They are among the 10 low income districts of Nepal.

“We are covering districts like Surkhet, Dailekh, Salyan, Jajarkot and Kalikot of mid western development region of newly opened road corridor of Surkhet Jumla and Chhinchu-Jajarkot” said Dr. Mishra.

Fourteen Years of Effort

Following fourteen years long efforts, Jumla and Kalikot, two districts of mid-western region are now linked with the rest of the country. The challenge now is how to make them competitive in the market.

Thanks to the Nepal Army, the road was completed on schedule despite years of conflict in that region. This is not the first north south corridor road which Nepal Army has constructed. Trishuli- Somdang road, Okhaldhunga -Katari road are previous examples. Nepal army is now constructing Beni-Jomsom road.

Traditionally our road networks have been dominated by east west high way. The road which opened up access to wider market – is there but the producers have to compete with each other in the market as all of them were producing similar commodities. In the context of north south economic corridor, what we see as the basic advantage is how the producers within the north south corridor don’t have to compete with themselves in particular market because they produce different commodities.

Published by the Asian Development Bank and prepared by late Dr. Harka Gurung, Nepal Regional Strategy for Development draws the conclusion that transport infrastructure determines the future pattern of development. “The north south road linkages have now become more extended than when the concept of growth axes was first mooted and these have been superseded by the East-West high way with considerable change in the arterial route system.”

Some half a dozen cars reached Khalanga on April 13 with the vice chairman of NPC Jagdish Chandra Pokharel. The 232 kilometer long road will also benefit nearby districts of Mugu and Bajura of far western region.

Although 112 kilometer long road was completed in 1997, construction of the rest of the road was delayed because of Maoist conflict and lack of budget. Had the Maoists not attacked Nepal Army’s road construction camp in Kalikot, the road would have been completely operational long before.

“In a distance of few kilometers, you can find temperature ranging from tropical and warm in the south to cold temperature in north. This diversity is main advantage of Nepal where one can produce a range of commodities ranging from sub-tropical to warm temperature climate,” said Dr. Upadhyaya.

“By promoting the off season vegetables in Dhankuta, we have already shown that by developing the north south corridor for particular product, we can bring prosperity in Nepal,” said Dr. Upadhyaya.

By replicating CEAPRED success story of off season vegetables production of Dhankuta road corridor, millions of poor people living in the northern hills can make a lot of difference in their livelihood.

As CEAPRED has already initiated programs for the residents of Surkhet-Jumla road corridor, farmers can hope that their ecological and biological diversities will offer them with unique comparative advantages and opportunities to grow a wide range of high-value agricultural and forest products in raising their income and enhancing food security.