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FAO Sunflower Day Event in Pakistan
Maryam Bibi is a sharecropper, residing in a small village outside the town of Badin in rural Sindh, Pakistan. Her family (ten siblings, her husband and their five children) had not yet recovered from the devastation of the 2010 floods when they were impacted again by the 2011 monsoon floods. Badin was categorized as one of the most severely affected districts, where it took several months for flood waters to recede. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that she and her family were unable to plant any crops during the Rabi season (October–January), leaving them without income to help survive the coming months.
It was during this time that FAO was able to help 58 500 farming families get back on their feet through sunflower cultivation, thanks to financial support provided by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID). Local implementing partners of the two projects included National Rural Support Programme, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai Welfare Society and Plan International.
Each family received 2 kg of sunflower seeds along with 50 kg of diammonium phosphate and 50 kg of urea, sufficient to cultivate 1 acre of land. The projects also provided sunflower production technology and post-harvest training to men and women beneficiaries, and assisted them in establishing market linkages to help with the sale of their produce. Each family was able to produce at least 500 kg of sunflower seed for sale as well as home consumption. The expected earnings are approximately USD 250 per acre, providing the necessary capital for families to afford agricultural inputs they will need to plant important staple crops such as rice during the Kharif planting season, beginning in April.
Another female farmer, Amman Chattan (a mother of eight), walked several kilometres to join her friends and family to celebrate Sunflower Day in a small village called Koriani, located just outside the town of Badin. Amman Chattan is much older than Maryam, but her story is very similar. Her family had lost everything in the 2011 floods and could not plant any crops in fall 2011 (to harvest in spring 2012). She even had to sell her daughters’ earrings, so she could pay a tractor owner to assist in planting and purchase some other productive assets for use during the spring 2012 planting season. After having all her livestock pass away due to disease and lack of food, she found out about the sunflower seeds and agricultural support being provided by FAO. Through these inputs, she was able to harvest 18 mounds (720 kg) of sunflowers and earn PKR 38 700 (approximately USD 412). She purchased earrings for her daughter and spent PKR 13 000 (approximately USD 138) to repair her home, which had been badly damaged by the floods.
Women like Maryam Bibi and Amman Chattan will probably not earn enough to repay the massive debts incurred from the catastrophes they have survived. A Detailed Livelihood Assessment conducted by FAO nearly one year after the 2010 floods indicates that flood-affected communities became heavily indebted in the aftermath of the floods, mostly to purchase food. On average, up to 50 percent of profits are handed over to the landowners as rent or tax for the land that sharecroppers till. What is left with these farmers is barely enough to buy seeds for the next season, let alone ensure an adequate level of food security for the household. Despite these harsh realities that small-scale farmers have to deal with on a daily basis, they are very thankful that they were able to cultivate during the Zaid Rabi season and reap profits within just three months.
Farmers at the Sunflower Day event in Koriani appreciated the assistance they received and urged donors to continue providing support. The needs are immense and farmers are anxious about the upcoming monsoon season. Projects such as these are crucial, but disaster-affected communities require longer-term, sustainable solutions to their problems. The resilience of these communities must be enhanced through disaster risk reduction and mitigation activities. FAO aims to continue helping these farmers get back on their feet, but requires sustained donor support to do so.
Maryam is particularly hopeful about the future. Despite having a large family to support, she believes a woman should not be relegated to the confines of the home. When she took the stage, her vigor and vitality kindled the spirit of the event, which at its essence was a celebration of resilience, partnership and hope.