From obstacles to orchards in Pakistan


Umer has let nothing stand in the way of becoming a successful entrepreneur

Umer, a farmer from northern Pakistan, has never let his disability hold him back from achieving his goals of starting his own farming business and providing for his family. ©FAO/Haroon Rashid

01/09/2020

In a sun-dappled orchard in Northern Pakistan, farmer and orchardist Muhammed Umer is collecting ripe fruits from bursting tree branches. After collecting a large haul of juicy pomegranates, guava and apples, he turns toward home, content with the day’s harvest.

In Annar Bagh, a remote corner of Waziristan, agriculture is the main source of livelihood for locals, but the lack of agricultural infrastructure and poor economic conditions make it a tough life. This adds to the difficulties already faced by local communities who had been temporarily displaced from their homes because of the conflict in 2008. For many years, Umer and his family lived in the Tank District, an area that hosted thousands of other displaced people. Not only was this environment tough, but Umer has had to overcome other challenges too - ones he has faced since birth.

Born with a physical impairment, Umer has consistently challenged the negative attitudes and stereotypes linked to disability, and he has never let any physical or societal constraint become a barrier to achieving his goals. Taking every opportunity to learn, he worked hard as a farmer and an orchardist and now his income provides a good quality of life for his whole family.

“I do not see my disability as an obstacle. But it took me some time to realise my strengths and to start pursuing my dreams” says Umer.

With FAO’s help, Umer’s orchard is bursting with juicy pomegranates, guava and apples. ©FAO/Haroon Rashid

Previously, Umer had been farming on a small scale, where and when he could. His first real opportunity for business arose when the security situation changed, and he was able to return to his family’s land. He received 600 orchard plants of pomegranate, guava and apple from FAO, as part of a project supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The project focused on developing the local economy and revitalizing the livelihoods of Pakistani families returning home after being temporarily displaced.

Now, Umer’s fruit trees are his pride and joy. Planted as saplings, they tentatively began bearing fruit shortly after. At the beginning, his goal was to produce enough to feed his whole family and extended family living on the land, including his brothers, their families, grandparents and great-grandparents, as is tradition in Pakistan. As the trees grew and blossomed further, however, he began selling the fruit in the local market too.

The income he generated from selling the fruit was just the start. He expanded his knowledge and business and began using the land to cultivate seasonal vegetables such as okra, tomatoes and carrots. Umer quickly picked up the advanced agricultural practices taught to him during FAO Farmer Field School sessions and used his income to invest in a solar-powered water pump to avoid water shortages. He then opened his own shop, further increasing his profits.

“I believe that there is no substitute to working hard. Our area holds vast potential for agriculture which we need to take advantage of. Fulfilling the needs of my family, sending my children to school and having a good-quality life have always been priorities for me,” says Umer.

Using the profits from his successful orchard and vegetable business, Umer was able to open his own shop to sell produce to his local community. ©FAO/Haroon Rashid

COVID-19 adds new challenges to Umer’s life

The COVID-19 outbreak brought forth new challenges for farmers in Pakistan, with shops, markets and trade routes closed due to the lockdown. With his shop shut down, Umer’s earnings fell significantly.

After listening to the Government’s advice on safety measures, he decided to work alone at the orchard throughout the pandemic. This way he could safely collect the fruit. At a time when food supply chains were severely disrupted, Umer nonetheless continued to work to ensure that the fruit from his orchard reached the few local markets that were still allowed to open and where there was a shortage of food items. A food hero not only to his community, he was also one to his family; even with his shop closed, he was still able to sustain his income and provide for them.   

“Going through these tough times has made me realize that no matter how difficult the times, there is always an opportunity. One should always maintain a positive mindset and never lose hope,” says Umer.

Together with USAID, FAO aims to reduce poverty and economic inequalities in these conflict-affected districts of Pakistan. When Umer and other families returned to their land after almost 10 years of displacement, the infrastructure and agricultural land was in an abandoned state and the irrigation channels in the area were severely damaged. This is why FAO is now working to revitalise agriculture in the area, helping increase communities’ resilience and boost their livelihoods, food security and nutrition.

Behind all of our food, there is always someone who produced, planted, harvested, fished or transported it. In the run up to World Food Day on October 16, we take the opportunity to thank these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food for their communities and beyond - helping to grow, nourish and sustain our world.


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1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 10. Reduced inequalities