FAO in Pakistan

From the Barren Land to the Fields of Gold

The FAO Emergency Support to the Restoration of Agricultural-Based Livelihoods of Returned Families in Kurram Agency of FATA Project helped thousands of farmers start cultivating their fields again

Like many other residents of Kurram Agency in the FATA, Shaukat Iqbal of Muzafar Kot Village, Lower Kurram Tehsil, used to earn his living by growing wheat and rice.  His 2.5 acres of land provided food and income for the entire family of five including his mother, wife and two sons.

Their lives were disrupted in 2008 when a protracted conflict and sectarian violence in the area forced Iqbal and his family to leave their home. “Suddenly, our lives took a U-turn. We had no idea what the future held for us,” said Iqbal. At first, the family sought refuge at a relative’s home in another village. However, it was hard to earn living there, and the family relocated to Peshawar.

Before too long, Iqbal realized that Peshawar just as hard a place to make living. His lengthy search for employment was unsuccessful. “All my life, I had only worked on my land; all I could do in Peshawar to make ends meet was to become a labourer,” said Mr. Iqbal. “For five years, we lived hand-to-mouth.”

As soon as Iqbal heard that the Government of Pakistan has allowed displaced persons to return to their homes, the farmer began planning to return to his land.

The first wave of joy soon turned into worry as Iqbal realized that houses, schools, roads, hospitals and agricultural lands were all destroyed in his home area, and the family had no savings to rebuild their lives.

For once, luck was on Iqbal’s side. “My neighbour told me that an NGO was visiting our village to collect information on returnee farmers who need agricultural assistance,” said Iqbal. “I hurried to meet the visitors and shared all required information with them.”

The visiting NGO represented an FAO project funded by the Kingdom of Belgium to assist families affected by the conflict in Kurram agency to restore their livelihoods. Iqbal met the project criteria for a project beneficiary and received 50 kilograms of wheat seed, 50 kilograms of fertilizer and 0.5 kilograms of vegetable seed. The wheat seed was estimated to be sufficient for one acre of land, while the vegetable seeds were to be used to grow food until the wheat harvest.

The next few months flew by with the family ploughing the fields and sowing wheat, learning from FAO how to grow a kitchen garden and how to receive better yields. Before they knew it, the summer was in, and with it, the harvesting time for wheat.

Iqbal harvested 1.7 tons of wheat from the FAO seed, over three times more than he had ever done before. He plans to keep approximately 1.4 tons for home consumption, while another 160 kilograms have been set aside for the net year’s planting. “I will sell the remaining wheat and hopefully will earn 8,000-11,000 Rupees (US$80-US$110) to buy medicines for my mother and other necessities for the family,” he said.

Mr. Iqbal also produced 300 kilograms of wheat straw, which is worth approximately 16,000 Rupees (US$160) in the market. He will use the straw as fodder for the livestock that the family plans to buy. “My barren field has turned into a field of gold,” said Iqbal, his voice full of pride for this land and gratitude for the support he had received.