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Agriculture is the most influential sector in freeing Pakistan’s poorest families from hunger, malnutrition and dependence on external aid. In addition to providing food and income to 80 percent of the population, agriculture has a direct bearing on whether vulnerable rural households can provide for themselves at all – from paying off debt, to affording medical services, to keeping their children enrolled in school. Safeguarding agricultural production has proven especially crucial in the context of emergencies, which have increased in frequency and scale over the past decade, including two major earthquakes (2005/07), four severe floods (2007/08/10/11) and continued conflict and displacement in the north since 2001. A core focus of FAO’s work in Pakistan is to help rural communities strengthen their livelihoods and resilience to shocks, so they can achieve greater self-sufficiency and quality of life.
Turning back the clock on losses
After a major disaster, rapid response to agricultural needs can reverse losses that would otherwise exacerbate human suffering and aid expenditure. Providing seeds to small-scale farmers in time for a major planting season can translate to six months of food supply and income. Similarly, reacting in time to save animals enables families to retain a continual flow of cash and nutrient-rich foods, including eggs, meat and milk. With the immediate commitment of donors following the 2010 floods, FAO was able to reach nearly 10 million people across Pakistan within six months. Through these efforts, over a million livestock were kept alive and healthy, and the wheat planting season was possible rather than delayed by a year. Farmers, who were otherwise unable to grow food, yielded 650 000 tonnes of wheat – enough to feed more than 4 million people for at least half a year.
Investments that save
Beyond decreasing the time gap between aid dependence and self-reliance, investing in agriculture saves on immediate costs. Providing farmers with wheat seed and fertilizers to return to production is nearly 5 times less costly than purchasing the equivalent quantity of wheat grain on the local market. In addition, they are able to save some of the quality seeds – which can yield 50 percent more than commonly used varieties – to plant in future seasons. On average, these families sell around a third of their production, generating USD 116 of cash income to meet other critical needs. Saving large livestock, such as a cow or buffalo, by providing sufficient nutrients and veterinary supplies cuts costs ten-fold compared to replacing an animal. A greater number of surviving healthy animals also means herds can regenerate faster, and naturally multiply a family’s assets and related income.
Rising to the challenge
FAO engages in a wide range of assessment and contingency work to strengthen preparedness for emergencies to better understand and address the changing needs of vulnerable populations. Hazard Livelihood and Vulnerability baseline studies provide greater insight into the risks faced by different communities; when, where and who they may strike; and how families and livelihoods can be best supported after a disaster. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system is being rolled out across Pakistan this year to introduce a common scale to measure food needs, making it easier for donors, agencies and governments to identify priorities for intervention before they turn catastrophic. Members of the Food Security Cluster – co-led by FAO and WFP – convene regularly during a crisis to ensure that best practices are applied and the appropriate food security responses – from agriculture to food aid support – reach the right people at the right time. FAO also coordinates assessments such as the 2012 Livelihood Recovery Appraisal that investigate how affected families are recovering from a crisis and identify priorities for a smooth transition from relief to development.