Pakistani Farmers Recover Their Futures
Kalsoom Bibi is a widow like many others in Pakistan. Kalsoom and her four young children are just five of the 20 million Pakistanis whose lives were turned upside down by the July 2010 floods that submerged nearly 20 percent of the country under water. And their home was just one of 1.6 million destroyed in the massive natural disaster.
Prior to the floods, Kalsoom had eked out an income for herself and her children through subsistence agriculture on her one acre of land in Punjab province. After the floods destroyed her entire wheat crop and her house, she was forced to move with her sons and daughters and their two buffalos to a little tent on her land. “life became very difficult for me,” she said. “I was worried about the future of my children.”
A Dangerous Cycle
While the floods were devastating for many Pakistanis, farmers like Kalsoom were some of the hardest hit. Farmers comprise 80 percent of Pakistan’s flood-affected population, and agricultural damage totaled over $5.1 billion. The floods struck right before the harvest of the spring crops, leaving two million hectares of standing crops destroyed and demolishing future income as well as current assets. Because 6.9 million hectares of Pakistan's most fertile land were submerged under water and irrigation infrastructure had sustained significant damage, the threat of long-term food insecurity loomed large.
Without income or any means of recouping their losses, many farmers would be forced to take their children out of school. The floods threatened to bring about an unending cycle of poverty, migration to urban centers, and poor health.
Bacha Wazir, a farmer and a father of nine from the village of Mandahai chakdara in the khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, acknowledged the impact of the floods on his children’s futures. even before the floods, he went into debt so he could send just two of his children to school.
After the floods, Basha explained, “like every father, I wish from the core of my heart to educate my children, but it requires resources that I don’t have.” Kalsoom and Bacha were just two farmers of the 5 million whose livelihoods were restored through USAID’s innovative post-flood relief program. USAID/Pakistan cooperated with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to introduce the Agriculture recovery Project, which enabled Pakistanis to recoup their incomes while ensuring that their gains were sustainable.
USAID/Pakistan faced a unique challenge when they endeavored to find relief for the multitudes of flood-affected farmers. The Agency had provided millions of dollars for technical assistance and support to farmers in the past, but the urgency of this situation required a different approach. “When you have a flood, it is anemergency humanitarian crisis. People are at risk of losing their lives,” said Dr. William Patterson, director of USAID/Pakistan’s Office of Agriculture and economic Growth. In this situation, “The first step is to focus on saving lives, and the next step is to focus on getting people back on their feet,” he said.
The Agriculture recovery Project was successful on both fronts due to its innovative, multi-pronged approach. USAID brought small-scale farmers quick relief by providing them with high-quality, certified wheat seeds and fertilizer and distributing feed, fodder, medicines, and other supplies for livestock. Wheat supplies went to 410,000 farm families and livestock supplies to 134,770 farmers.
While distributing this urgently needed help certainly improved the prospects of the farmers, there was still a problem. The floods had damaged many of the on-farm irrigation systems that supported the crops. Some of the infrastructure was completely destroyed, while other irrigation canals were filled with mud, rendering them unusable. Without a way to get water to the crops, the seeds were almost useless. USAID addressed this problem through a cash-for-work program, which paid flood-affected farmers to rehabilitate the damaged canals. This program achieved two pressing objectives: it provided farmers who had sustained significant losses with much-needed immediate income while enabling them to resume their agricultural livelihoods.
Their hard work paid off. Thousands of flood-affected Pakistanis rehabilitated over 1,300 canals. They reinforced many with bricks and cement to seal the cracks in the walls.
USAID/Pakistan Project Management Specialist for Agriculture Mohammed Ghani khan credited the cash-for-work program with much of the Agriculture recovery Project’s success. “Through this component, farmers not only restored their on-farm irrigation systems but also earned cash to restore their immediate livelihoods,” he said.
Adapting to Local Needs
Although the Agriculture recovery Project was successful in helping farmers earn incomes while continuing their ways of life, providing relief to millions of people scattered throughout a country as large and diverse as Pakistan was no simple feat. When implementing the project, staff found they had to take steps to accommodate local conditions in each of the three provinces where it operated.
“The challenges vary from province to province,” said Mr. khan. For example, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces are densely populated, so identifying those most in need of assistance was relatively easy. However, Balochistan province comprises 42 percent of the land in Pakistan and is much less densely populated, so identifying and reaching the neediest farmers proved difficult. To confront this challenge, project staff relied on the residents themselves. “We used mosques to get people together,” Mr. Khan said. “We’d explain the criteria, and they would form groups. They themselves would identify the most poor and vulnerable among them.”
But the problems in Sindh province required some real ingenuity to solve. Sindh sustained the most damage from the floods, but because floodwaters did not recede there until after the wheat season was over, it could not be accommodated under the aegis of the project. USAID was tasked with finding a quick fix to put struggling Sindhis back on their feet. Their solution: sunflowers.
USAID introduced sunflowers to Sindh as part of the separate Sindh Agriculture recovery Program. Like the Agriculture recovery Project, the Sindh Program introduced a cash-for-work program to rehabilitate on-farm irrigation systems. Instead of distributing wheat to the province’s most destitute, however, the Agency distributed sunflower seeds. “There was a demand for sunflowers in Sindh, so we introduced sunflower seeds,” Mr. Khan said.
Sunflowers were an appropriate substitute for wheat because they have a shorter crop cycle and could be cultivated later in the year, after the floodwaters had receded. They also have greater overall yields than wheat and have a high value in the Pakistani market. “You can link it to Pakistan’s edible oil needs,” said Mr. khan. “Pakistan imports $1.6 billion a year of edible oil, so there is a big market for it.” lastly, sunflowers are more drought-resistant and require less water than wheat, thus serving what Dr. Patterson described as one of USAID/Pakistan’s primary agricultural goals: “More crop per drop.”
In the wake of the disastrous effects that flooding had on local livelihoods, the Agriculture recovery Project and the Sindh Agriculture recovery Program provided opportunities for Pakistani farmers to engage in income-generating activities. With a budget of $62 million, Agriculture recovery Project-related activities generated $185 million in income for Pakistani farmers, nearly tripling USAID’s investment there. Sindh Agriculture recovery Program activities generated an additional $19 million in income for Sindh’s farmers. While these successes are already formidable, the full extent of the benefits of the improved irrigation infrastructure and the high yield crops might not be fully realized for years.
A number of large-scale irrigation projects are also in the works. Two of the most promising projects are already underway – the construction of multi-purpose dams in Satpara and Gomal Zam. While the dams are officially energy sector projects, they will also impact farmers by providing water to irrigate over 83,000 hectares of farmland. Production will start soon, according to Dr. Patterson.
In the meantime, Pakistan’s farmers are enjoying the fruits of their labor. Kalsoom Bibi is now one of the millions of self-sufficient small-scale farmers. “I never expected that someone would help me in this way,” she said. “I keep USAID and FAO in my prayers, for they helped me in a time of distress.”
Last updated: September 18, 2013