Nepal’s growing dependency on food imports: A threat to national sovereignty and ways forward


  • Jagannath Adhikari Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia
  • Milan Shrestha Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
  • Dinesh Paudel Appalachian State University, Boone, USA



Agriculture, food import-export, dependency, food security, food sovereignty, political-economy and policies


Nepal's food imports are growing at an alarming rate. Recent reports suggest a 65% jump in the imports of the key agricultural products between 2015 to 2020. It signals not only the growing dependency trends but also raises serious questions about the future of the agricultural sector in the country--a potential threat to national security and sovereignty. While the topic receives regular media coverage, rarely examined are the historical contexts and the socio-economic, (geo)-political, and cultural drivers of the growing dependency on food imports. Using a political economy approach, we take a systematic look at the food production and import trajectories along with a set of historically important internal and external factors affecting Nepal's food systems. The main objective of this paper is to examine how Nepal became a net food importer in recent decades and discuss some potential ways forward. We argue that while the sharp rise in food imports is unprecedented for Nepal's historically agriculture-based economy, it is hardly surprising in a globalized world; it is emblematic of the global decline of subsistence agriculture in the face of the wider market economy. We conclude that the changes in Nepal's food production and import trajectories are largely influenced by four key interconnected endogenous and exogenous drivers: 1) the politics of modernization and economic growth affecting the agriculture and food systems, 2) regional geopolitics and increasing economic/market dependence, 3) ineffective government policies on food production and imports, and 4) political instability and insurgency forcing migration and off-farm incomes.

Author Biographies

Jagannath Adhikari, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia

Jagannath Adhikari is, at present, an adjunct faculty at the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia. He is a human geographer with research interests on agricultural development, food security, migration, international development policy, natural resources management and disaster risk management. He has published extensively in the form of research articles and books on those themes. Expanded and revised edition of his book “New Lahure” (co-authored with David Seddon and Ganesh Gurung) has recently been published.

Milan Shrestha, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA

Milan Shrestha is Senior Lecturer and Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University. A broadly trained environmental anthropologist, Milan's research focus has been on the fundamental research of how shared cultural knowledge and rules influence people's perception and decision-making related to their smallholder agriculture, land use, disaster risk, common pool resources, and other sustainability issues. In recent years, he has conducted a series of fieldwork in Nepal to study the intersectionality between the cryosphere and society, particularly how people perceive, experience, interpret, and respond to glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF) and other disaster risks.

Dinesh Paudel, Appalachian State University, Boone, USA

Dinesh Paudel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University. He is also affiliated with Southasia Institute for Advanced Studies (SIAS) Nepal Kathmandu. His current research focuses on critical development theory, disaster capitalism, social development, regional infrastructure competition and developmental geopolitics in Nepal and the Himalaya region.


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How to Cite

Adhikari, J., Shrestha, M., & Paudel, D. (2021). Nepal’s growing dependency on food imports: A threat to national sovereignty and ways forward. Nepal Public Policy Review, 1, 68–86.



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