FAO in Pakistan

Development Assistance with Dignity

The FAO Balochistan Agricultural Programme helps Balochistan’s communities improve their livelihoods

It is indeed an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
The period from 1996 to 2004 is known in Balochistan as the decade of droughts. Those years took a heavy toll on the predominantly rural province: Herds were decimated. Crops shrivelled. Orchards were abandoned. Incomes plummeted. 

Out of this devastation came the Balochistan Agricultural Programme, designed and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to address the consequences of the drought on the province’s rural population. Launched in 2005, the programme endeavoured to respect the dignity of the recipient communities in its work and to avoid creating the culture of dependency on assistance.  To remain true to this fundamental principle, the programme deliberately and consciously sought to avoid the paternalism so easily adopted by those delivering aid where the project takes over the decision-making in the beneficiary communities.
Almost 10 years later, an impressive array of successes speaks to the effectiveness of the programme’s approach: its beneficiaries in the three original districts have quadrupled their daily incomes from US$0.70 in 2006 to US$2.50 in 2013. Participating communities have raised more than US$1.0 million to share the costs of the programme activities. And some of the activities are now conducted by the communities independently from donor support. “FAO has taught us how to work together, and as a result, we earn better incomes,” says farmer Mohammad Yousuf of Kili Ali Mohammad Village, Quetta District. 

From the onset, the programme presented a sharp contrast to other assistance efforts in the province at that time, where most of the development partners focused on the delivery of free inputs to communities. “In our opinion, provision of free inputs was increasing the dependency of the population on aid. We did not think such dependency was in the best interests of the communities,” says Mr. David Doolan, FAO International Project Manager who led the programme almost from its first days. 
Instead, the programme insisted that each community share the costs of capital investment and inputs. Men’s Community Organisations were expected to contribute half and Women’s Community Organisations – quarter of the costs in cash or in kind. “Community cost-share is essential to ensure that we fund real community needs. Equally importantly, cost-share creates community ownership, where the community members can demand services from the programme and monitor the quality of the activities,” says Mr. Doolan. 

The programme adopted a clear process of interaction with the communities. Interaction began with selection of communities willing to partner with the programme and identification of agricultural activities the programme would work on. With FAO assistance, communities set up Community Organizations to serve as the conduit for the interaction with the programme.

During the next phase, FAO used an ‘appreciative inquiry’ approach to recognise the indigenous knowledge of the beneficiaries and increase the community’s sense of self-worth. Through an analysis of their past achievements and the factors that could lead to successful interventions, community members came to understand how their collective actions could improve their livelihoods. This process built mutual respect and empowerment that the communities have used, and are continuing to use, to identify and develop opportunities to improve their incomes and lives. Technical backstopping for this approach was provided to the programme by the late Mr. David Hitchcock, a specialist in community development techniques from FAO headquarters in Rome.
The programme then engaged the communities in identifying critical knowledge gaps that the programme could address through training. Knowledge gaps included such issues as grain storage facilities, noxious weed control and animal vaccination. As the final phase of the process, FAO worked with the communities on overcoming key constraints to agricultural production through infrastructural improvements or access to better quality inputs.

Since water shortage is the key issue in Balochistan’s agriculture sector, water management has been a pivotal issue in the programme’s efforts to improve productivity. The programme has been addressing both the access to and the use of water. To improve the access to water, the programme invested in infrastructure: land levelling, lining of reservoirs, piping water to the fields, and rehabilitation of traditional karez systems, while promotion of more efficient irrigation systems is was used to improve the use of water. 

To maximize its impact, the programme focused on activities with the highest potential for the improvement of food security and farmer incomes. For example, in the northern districts, the programme worked to increase the yields of the staple crop to reduce the land area used for those crops, thus increasing the production area devoted to income-earning activities. This was largely achieved though improvement of the seed quality and crop husbandry. Farmers were also exposed to alternative high value crops through farmer field schools – a group-based learning process that FAO uses to enable the farmers to choose the most appropriate varieties of crops and methodologies for their fields. In the mountainous areas of the province, the programme promoted lamb fattening and improvements in the wool value chain to capitalize on the potential provided by the province’s 20 million herd of small ruminants. In the south, the programme has been working to increase incomes for date growers.

Improvements in agricultural productivity were designed to move beneficiaries from food deficit to the production of surpluses. Surpluses were then marketed to increase farm incomes. This required the communities to adopt new skills on marketing. The increasing monetary returns were then utilised to intensify production and add higher value products, which further enhanced incomes. At this stage, the programme helped interested members from several adjacent Community Organisations form an institutional arrangement termed a Farmer’s Marketing Collective, for collective bargaining and marketing of their goods. A recent study has shown that the Farmer Marketing Collectives approach can increase farmer profits by up to 47 percent.
While this capacity-building process is undeniably lengthy, it enables the communities to assume more responsibility for their own welfare and use their own skills and knowledge to improve their revenues.

The programme modified the approach to community development by using what it calls Community Development Market Facilitators instead of traditional group organisers as direct interlocutors with the beneficiaries. This approach was designed to treat communities as active partners of the development process rather than passive recipients of support. Another key innovation was the introduction of marketing concepts to the community development process and sensitizing farmers to the market needs. Here, the programme drew upon the expertise of FAO’s international consultants.  

From the beginning, the programme actively engaged women in rural communities to help them organize themselves as well as to identify their priorities and actions for improvements in their own lives and the lives of their families.  In each district, the programme has female staff members who work directly with women. Normally, the programme establishes a Men’s Community Organization first, making its support conditional upon the community’s willingness to establish a Women’s Organization.  This paves the way for women to get together with a female programme staff member, which typically serves as a first small step taken by many women in gaining self-confidence and increasing their household income. “My visit to the Women’s Community Organization in my village was the first time I went to my neighbour’s house without a man accompanying me,” says Ms. Begum Shakira, resident of a small community in Killa Saifullah District. 

Over the years, FAO efforts under the Balochistan Agricultural Programme were sponsored by two major donors: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Australian Aid. USAID provided US$31.7 million for the programme pilot and subsequent two expansions of the activities in eight districts along the border with Afghanistan in 2005-2015. The US$12.9 million from Australian Aid has been financing the replication of the project in six districts in the south of Balochistan since 2012. 
Since the programme’s launch in 2005, more than 21,500 households (172,000 men, women and children) have directly benefited from its activities through improvements in the management of water, crops and livestock, as well as community development and marketing. Another 28,600 households (229,000 men, women and children) have benefited from the programme indirectly. This second group of beneficiaries have not directly participated in the programme activities but can access the lessons learned by the direct beneficiaries. They enjoy improved availability of food and employment opportunities due to the growth of trading, transportation and food-service industries. “Our traditions remain the same, but our lives have become much better,” says Ms. Begum Daadi Nanny, the oldest woman in Karkara Village, Killa Saifullah District.

Amidst all the results, the community development stands out as perhaps the most important achievement and a foundation for a sustainable change. “Now, we are able to provide education for our children. Even our daughters are going to school as we can afford to hire labour,” explains Ms. Bibi Zubada from Zhob District.