“Prospects Of Small Farmers Improving” Jalan Kumar Sharma

Having worked for almost four decades in promoting and protecting the rights of small farmers through Sana Kisan Bank, JALAN KUMAR SHARMA, CEO of the bank, has established himself as a messiah of poor and marginalized farmers. Starting his career from Agriculture Development Bank, Sharma has spent his entire career to provide easy loan to uplift the life of small and poor farmers. Sharma spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues. Excerpts:

Issue Name : Vol.10,No 15, March 24,2017 (Chaitra 11,2073)

How do you see the coming decade for Sana Kisan Bank while looking back at the last three decades of work?

Given the present scenario, I can say that small farmers will make a great contribution in the national economy in the coming five or ten years' period. As small farmers are more organized through the Small Farmers Cooperatives in rural areas and rural settings, they have a greater say now. It is a matter of pride for us to say that the bank is behind the small farmers. There are 613 small farmer cooperatives affiliated to us with 585,258 households of poor and small farmers. These cooperatives are run by poor, margininalised small farmers. It is interesting that 76 percent of the members are women.

What is the state of resources?

In terms of getting resources, small farmers have their own resources. Sixty percent of resources come from the purse of farmers and the banks provide the rest forty percent in case they need. We are trying to meet the financial requirement of small farmers through small farmer’s agriculture cooperatives. As we have been working closely with the small farmers, there is no scarcity of fund at the grass root levels. 

What is the percentage of women involvement?

It is a matter of pride that over 77 percent of our members are women. Given the present scenario, there will be over ninety percent of women participation in ten years. When ninety percent of members of cooperatives are female, women will begin to lead the entire economic and social transformation in the rural Nepal. Once women are in the leadership and managerial positions, the resource mobilization will be more effective and efficient. Once there is a massive participation of women in all the sectors of agriculture, there will be a silent revolution.  It will help enhance productivity, mechanization and commercialization. Once there is a massive involvement of women, all the bottlenecks of agriculture will be addressed.

How do you view the program's worth?

Since the introduction of small farmers development program in 1975, I have been there, playing one or the other role. Perhaps, this is one of the oldest programs in the world directed at the uplift of poor and marginalized farmers. This has attempted to address the challenges of poverty alleviation and inclusion with credit and capacity enhancement.  The program has many dimensions, women empowerment, inclusion, poverty alleviation and capacity enhancement.  When it was started, the whole program was run by the officials sent from Kathmandu. Now, all the farmers have been managing the programs by themselves.  Farmers control and manage the affairs of the cooperatives themselves.  On top of that all the positions of the cooperatives are now managed by small farmers from the rural parts of the country. It is a cost effective and cost efficient organization as it is run by the community.

What is your emphasis now?

We are also giving more emphasis on technology.  Farmers are using IT as IT empowers farmers. For information dissemination and reliable data, IT process works instantly and correctly. IT sector, including mobile banking, has made a great progress in the rural parts of Nepal. What we have been doing now is encouraging small farmer’s cooperatives to link with these technologies. There is the need to apply technology to increase productivity. No country in the world has made progress without the use of technology and Nepal cannot be exception. Technology will bring change in productivity.

Since you are leading this bank for almost eight years developing relations with countries like Israel and international development agencies like Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and IFAD, what do you have to share now?

I see that simply building relations with the countries and agencies has little meaning but how the relations have generated advantages for the interest of small farmers is important. How you cultivate, how you manage and how you develop relations, these are very important aspects. Most important part is how you can maintain the relations. The relations are cultivated on the ground of trust, faith and reliability. What is important is the delivery. You have to make the delivery more efficient and effective and prove your capability in action, and then only donors can trust you. I am proud to say that Small Farmers Bank and its members, small farmer’s cooperatives, are capable to do so. You need to win the trust and confidence of Nepal’s friends. We have very cordial and significant bilateral relationship with Government of Israel through the Embassy of Israel in Nepal. It has been so for the last five years and we have been able to maintain our relations.

How do you see your programs with Israel?

I can say that the relations have converted into trust. We have been sending students in Israel continuously for each of the last four years. We are now working in sending the fifth batch. It is a matter of pleasure for me to say that the number of students going to Israel this year is not less than that of the last year. All these students are young students having completed higher secondary education. All these students can write and speak English. This is very important. What I believe is that in twenty years we will have more qualified and educated farmers in agriculture sector. Nepalese students are going in Israel for ten to eleven months under 'learn and earn' program. These students are exposed to highly mechanized and commercialized agriculture of Israel. This is a great opportunity for Nepalese farmers to learn high tech agriculture. These students will bring a substantial change in Nepal’s agriculture sector.

Have other notable people visited your program?

I am very happy that ambassador of United States of American Alaina B. Teplitz visited some of our programs recently. She shared the views with our small farmers. She appreciated our program highly. We are encouraged by her appreciation of our program. I had a very extensive discussion with the USAID director, who also visited the program. Others are also showing interest in our program because we work with the poor people. Our country cannot grow without the improvement of the livelihood of poor farmers. My own experience of last four decades shows that if you cannot pay enough attention in the agriculture sector, you cannot make change happen. The country has no future without agriculture. For this, you need to support the small farmers with matching fund. If you invest one rupee in agriculture, there will be return of four rupees. You need to provide necessary fund to the farmers and subsidy which will increase the value chain. One needs to give ownership of programs to farmers. This is very important. Our bank is giving ownership to farmers.

What is the rate of recovery of loan?

It is almost over 99.5 percent repayment of farmers to cooperatives. Small farmers return the loan as soon as they have money. There is no risk in investing in small farmers. We lend the loan through the small cooperatives and thus there is high recovery. Repayment is so high in the cooperative and bank. This is high because of 60 percent of lending money is money of small farmers themselves. When money is circulated, there are fewer chances for misuse. There might be some exception, but in overwhelming cases, they are is doing well. In future, the situation will improve.

How have you planned to expand the small farmer’s current structure?

There is the need to enable the organization to address the challenges. Of course, there is the need to increase the size as former governor Dr. Yubaraj Khatiwada said. What I can say is that no other institution has made progress as Sana Kisan Bikas Bank has done.

How do you see the importance of research?

Research is very important for the country. If you don’t do research, how can a country or institution take a new initiation. Research is necessary to get feedback of the people regarding the project and program. Since two or three years, I have been thinking about how to make research as an integral part of our program. I think there is the need to have a complex of Sana Kishan Bikas Bank where research center and training center should be there. Of course, private sector has been emerging but they don’t have that kind of center.  Research will help us to understand requirement and need of the people.  Otherwise we have to rely on secondary information provided by others. If bank does not add research in its component, it cannot do very well.

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