Can Nepal ever develop?

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Two hundred years ago Nepal was a net exporter. The export to import ratio was 5:1. Nepal was self-sufficient in food grains till the 1970s. Economically, we were on par with South Korea and Singapore until the 1960s.  Nepal has always been touted as a country having a huge hydro-energy potential (84,000 MW). Twenty-one percent of the total land area is arable. Tarai-Madesh is endowed with fertile soils which can support profitable commercial agriculture. Hilly and mountainous regions can be exploited for hydro-electricity, tourism, and agro-forestry. Nepal is also located advantageously between the rising economic powers of the world; India and china.

Nepal’s per-capita income is one of the lowest in the world. The proportion of population living below the absolute poverty line is 25%. Some estimates put it at as high as 40 %. Why is Nepal the poorest country in Asia while its neighbors are making tremendous economic strides? Can Nepal ever develop?

Nobody can predict exactly when but substantial change is possible within a decade or two. But who is going to make it happen and how?

Visionary leadership

The first precondition is a visionary leadership. Politics is the mainstay of a country. Politics is inherently obscure, dirty, and bad. However, if it gets extremely bad, we get a situation like that of Nepal. It is the foremost duty of the aforementioned visionary leadership to bring about real political stability. A house in chaos cannot function at all.

Where there's a will, there's a way. In the 1950s Nepal, Singapore and South Korea were at the same level, economically. Where are they now and what happened to us?  While they got visionary and determined leaders; Park Chung Hee and Lee Kuan Yew, we didn't. Except for a few leaders in the past, Nepal has faced a perennial shortage of statesman.

Is there a possibility of rise of a visionary leadership, given such hopeless politicians we currently have?  Who knows? If Uganda and Ethiopia can come out of worse political situation than ours, there is hope. Nobody exported leaders to those countries.

Plans for economic ascent

Our country has been witness to a variety of historic political changes in the past decade. Janandolan-II of 62/63, doing away with the Shah Dynasty, the end of Maoist Insurgency and them joining the mainstream politics, two Mahdes movements, secularization and federation of the country, promulgation of the new constitution. Despite these historic changes there has been no real economic change that a normal person can feel.

The ‘visionary leadership’ mentioned above should come up with comprehensive plans for economic reforms. Conducive environment for conducting business or opening up factories/industries, to be precise for investment should be made. Foreigners are willing to invest but not without a minimum guarantee of return for their investment. We have two global economic powerhouses as neighbors. Hence, there should be no dearth of investors. A nation-state makes money by making products/consumer goods not by outsourcing raw materials or unskilled labor. Tourism alone is not going to make us rich. Except for Seychelles and Maldives, no country makes enough money off tourism.

Avoiding the resource curse

Our key resources in decreasing order of importance are young population, land, water, and forest.

Democratic Republic of Congo is a very resource-rich country. Unfortunately, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Resources themselves are nothing. For turning the resources into valuable products/goods, we need able/skilled human resources. Therefore, simultaneous investment on education is a must. Nepali education system is one of the worst in the world. Overhauling it should go hand in hand with economic reforms.

Japan does not have much of valuable raw materials (no oil, gold, uranium, lithium, coltan, coal, diamonds etc). Nevertheless, it is the third largest economy in the world.  How did it happen in a war-ravaged country? It became possible with a visionary leadership and cooperative/hardworking people.

Only one river (Jordan) flows through the country called Israel and it doesn't even reach the sea. Yet, they are a major agricultural exporter. They even provide scholarships in agriculture to us. Shouldn't it be us, rather than them, providing such scholarships? We have 6,000 small and big rivers/streams and a much bigger area (147.181 square kilometers) with a higher proportion of arable land. Mind you, Israel is largely a desert, with an area of just over 20,000 square kilometer, and is surrounded by hostile neighbors.

The economic development that Nepali people are waiting for is long overdue. Fragile it may be, but Nepal is not yet a failed state. It is high time that our leadership acts conscientiously.

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