The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected the agrarian and remittance-based economy of Nepal. Dwindling the employment opportunities and disrupting the food production and distribution channels, the pandemic has further exacerbated the unemployment and food insecurity situation. Providing employment opportunities and livelihood support to pandemic-affected households has, therefore, become increasingly challenging but a necessary priority to the government. Therefore, to build a sustainable and resilient economy that generates employment and enhance agricultural productivity, revitalization of the constraints-ridden agriculture sector is essential as it still contributes 65% and 24.3% to employment and Gross Domestic Product, respectively. Against this backdrop, this paper presents major pathways and priority actions to rebuild and revitalize the growth of the agricultural sector in Nepal while addressing the challenge posed by the pandemic to generate employment and income-earning opportunities. We emphasize the need for scale-appropriate strategies, programs and plans to build resilience of production, supply chains, and agribusiness systems. We conclude that the government should initially focus on targeted priority interventions to the pandemic-affected farmers and agro-entrepreneurs, and strengthen their productive, competitive, and adaptive capacities. These need to be followed by long-term strategies such as development of agricultural infrastructure, innovative policies, legal instruments, and institutional arrangements, including strengthening of the recently established local governments in line with the federal structure of Nepal.
COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) is a global pandemic of enormous proportion that has severely affected human lives and the global economy (UNDP, 2020b). The virus has spread to over 213 countries and territories infecting more than 65.1 million people and killing over 1.5 million by 3 December 2020 (Worldometer, 2020). Lockdowns and mobility restrictions have been the common responses to the pandemic, but they have disrupted production, input and output markets, supply chains, global trade, travel, and tourism; delivering an enormous shock to the global economy in 2020 as indicated by early estimates of 495 million job losses and 5.2% contraction on global output (ILO, 2020a; World Bank, 2020b).
The health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been severe in countries that have weak health systems and rely heavily on trade, tourism, and remittances (World Bank, 2020b). Like many other severely affected countries, Nepal has been experiencing health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Over 237,589 infections and 1551 deaths have been reported in Nepal by 3 December 2020 (MOHP, 2020) and the country has entered a second wave that is more severe than the first (World Bank, 2020f). COVID-19 and associated nationwide complete (from 24 March to 21 July 2020) and partial (after 21 July) lockdowns have severely affected the Nepalese economy through multiple channels: a) the collapse of tourism, trade, and hospitality sectors, affecting over one million jobs; b) loss of foreign jobs and return of migrants, affecting remittance earnings; and c) disruption of production and supply chains of the industrial and agricultural products, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people (Baniya et al., 2020; ILO, 2020b; World Bank, 2020c).