Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has been severely affected by unrest and military operations over the last decade. Some 260 000 families have been displaced from their homes. In response, the FATA Secretariat has implemented a “Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy” to support the return of displaced families. To support this initiative, FAO and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched the Recovery and Development of the Agricultural Economy in FATA project. The purpose of this project is to stabilize the area by reviving livelihoods, reducing poverty and decreasing economic inequalities. This is being achieved by restoring productive assets (including the reclamation of land), improving agricultural production and providing capacity building training for local famers, especially women. To date, the project has benefitted approximately 46 452 households in the Khyber and Kurram agencies.
Gul Baro Bibi looks at her vegetable produce with relief. Her face glows with a sense of achievement as she watches her okra and bottle gourd ready to be harvested. The vegetables might appear ordinary to anyone else, but for Gul Baro Bibi, her small field is special because it tells her story.
Conflict and militancy in Bara, Khyber Agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) left Gul Baro Bibi and her family with no other choice than to flee their home. So many others suffered the same fate.
This was also true for Ahmed Baz, a 32 year old farmer who once lived happily with his family in Khairabad village of Bara. He lived the life of an average farmer relying on their farm to make ends meet.
When conflict hit the area, Ahmed, Gul Baro Bibi and so many others, were left with no other option than to leave their villages and move to safer areas. For Ahmed, it meant relocating to Polosai area of Peshawar, leaving behind his beloved farm.
Leaving meant safety but it also meant losing their homes, poultry, livestock and standing crops with little hope of regaining these assets, assets that are the lifeline of these communities.
Returning to our farms in Bara
In 2015, when many families were able to return to Bara, they faced the daunting prospect of restarting their livelihoods. Upon his return home, Ahmed felt helpless with little idea about how to begin all over again.
With grief, Ahmed talks about how the situation affected him: “My land remained barren for years and I was unable to prepare the land for farming. I had no money to purchase seeds of vegetables and crops.’’
In his and others’ hour of need, FAO and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) launched the Recovery and Development of the Agricultural Economy in FATA project in July 2015.
Stabilizing the Pakistan–Afghanistan border areas is one of Japan/JICA’s priorities. H. E. Mr. Hiroshi Inomata, Ambassador of Japan to Pakistan, points out, “The stability of FATA is essential for the stability of the entire Pakistan.”
With help from this project, things took a turn for the better. Identifying and selecting farmers, including Ahmed, FAO provided them with a piece of agricultural land and a farmer’s toolkit. The project also provided farmers with poultry, livestock and agricultural inputs for both the Rabi (winter) and Kharif (monsoon) seasons.
Empowering women in Bara
For Gul Baro Bibi, the cloud also had a silver lining. Agriculture, which has always been popular among women in Bara, presented a great opportunity for Gul Baro Bibi and her family to bounce back.
More than two thirds of women farmers assist in growing crops in the area, but they often do not get their deserved share of the post-production income.
Through this project, FAO has trained more than 400 women farmers. 15 Women Open Schools (WOS), led by female facilitators, are providing capacity building training to women throughout the various villages of Bara, Khyber Agency.
Gul Baro Bibi talks fondly about the Women Open School she was able to attend.
“I was unaware of proper agricultural techniques to grow vegetables. Growing on a small plot I learnt is easy and interesting,” says Gul Baro Bibi as she happily looks at her vegetable plot.
Gul Baro Bibi’s vegetable garden produced a healthy harvest because she, along with other women like her, learned the skills and knowledge required for growing vegetables. These trainings also taught women about the benefits of improving nutrition through vegetable production and home gardening.
Gul Baro Bibi now feels empowered: “Through WOS I am now able to grow and sell vegetables more efficiently. Throughout the season, my family and I consume fresh, chemical-free vegetables.”
In addition to these capacity building trainings, FAO is playing an important role in the development of FATA’s agriculture by providing essential agricultural inputs such as quality seeds, agricultural tools and improved irrigation infrastructure.
Employing effective agricultural practices, Gul Baro Bibi often enjoys a surplus. The additional kilograms of okra and bottle gourd brings home PKR 1 000 - 1 500 (~ 9 - 14 USD) per week which has enabled her to provide a more nutritious diet for her family and send her children to school.
From Ahmad’s side, the results were also positive: “I am really happy and thankful to FAO for giving me vegetable seeds and the tool kit. With FAO’s help to reclaim my land, I sowed okra and other vegetable seeds on 0.5 acre of land.”
The yield means more income for Ahmed: “This has enabled me to harvest up to 150 kg of produce which sometimes fetches me up to PKR 800 (~ 7 USD) a day in the local market.”
FAO has helped revive and improve the agricultural production (crops, livestock, poultry and fisheries) of the people who have returned to FATA. Thanks to this project, farmers have regained the critical assets needed for their livelihoods.
Ahmed, Gul Baro Bibi and the farmers of Bara are more hopeful for the future now that they can save some money, purchase good quality vegetable seeds and feed their families with nutritious food. These new farming skills and recovered livelihoods are helping the people of FATA regain self-sufficiency.