FAO in Pakistan

Planning Bumper Yields for the Years to Come

An FAO kitchen gardening initiative not only brings a good early harvest, but inspires followers far beyond the participating community

“We are now eager to produce seeds for the next year’s planting, so that we have equally good harvests year after year,” says farmer Arjun Kirshan about the collective kitchen-garden initiative launched by FAO in Sanjar Khaskheli Village in Mirpurkhas District of Sindh Province a few months before.  Despite being in early stages, the initiative has already proven to bring a plentiful harvest and good incomes for the participating farmers.

The initiative began in January 2014 when the FAO team approached residents of Sanjar Village to try growing a collective kitchen garden.  Sanjar Village consists of approximately 200 households, each including seven persons on average. Each household relies on a small piece of land and a few goats or sheep for living; some men also work in cities, but the earnings are far from sufficient to feed the families. 
Already one of the poorest villages in the district, Sanjar was badly hit by the 2011 floods and all standing crops were wiped out. The village has been struggling with food shortages ever since.

To help the villagers restore their food production and incomes, FAO helped to form two groups of 25 farmers – one consisting of men and one consisting of women, to preserve the traditional separation of men and women in the community. Members of the each group put their money together and rented a one-acre plot of land for collective gardening.  FAO committed to provide quality seeds, training on progressive gardening techniques and consultations, while the villagers agreed to contribute their labour and funds. 

“It was difficult to follow the advice of the FAO team at first,” says Kirshan, who gardened with the men’s group. FAO introduced many new approaches to gardening. The villagers were encouraged to try growing various new vegetables, use mulching to save water and plant the seeds differently than before.

Barely a month after the land was rented, cheerful sprigs of okra, gourd, cucumber and beans were stretching toward the gentle spring sun.  Before too long, the villagers noticed that due to the new techniques, the plants are not only thriving, but also forming fruit ahead of the usual schedule. 

“We had never seen an okra harvest barely 26 days after planting,” says another villager, Amr Shee. “Usually, it takes at least 40 days before the harvest begins, and here we are selling okra 15 days ahead of the schedule!” The return has also been good –the villagers were able to earn 69 Rupees (US$0.7) a kilogram of okra. Following guidance from the FAO team, the villagers picked the most marketable smaller-size okra fruits for sale and used the larger but less appealing fruits on the plant for seeds.
FAO also suggested that the villagers try to grow three harvests in a year rather than only two, as has been traditionally done in the area. Once the harvesting was finished, FAO taught the villagers to pickle their produce, so that the vegetables can be used throughout the year. 

The villagers have become so caught up in the initiative that households started competing among themselves in growing various vegetables using FAO techniques. But perhaps the best testimony to the success of the initiative is the interest of neighboring villages in replicating the techniques used in Sanjar.  To build on the growing interest, FAO organized exchange visits between the villages so that the new technologies can spread throughout the district and benefit more people.