FAO in Pakistan

To many having a disability is worse than any other hardship. Born with a physical impairment Umer challenged the negative attitudes and stereotypes linked to disability by never letting his circumstances come in the way of his active and full participation in life. 

I do not see my disability as an obstacle. It took me some time to realise my strengths and to start pursuing my dreams,” says 26-year-old Umer. 

Umer was born in Annar Bagh, a remote corner of South Waziristan which is surrounded by vast areas of cultivatable land. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for local residents. However, being a farmer in Annar Bagh did not come without its own challenges. Lack of agricultural infrastructure and poor economic conditions in the area added to the difficulties faced by local communities who had been displaced from their homes for many years. 

As a father of three, Umer was determined not to let any physical or societal constraint become a barrier to him achieving his goals. Taking every opportunity that enabled him to learn, he worked hard as a farmer and an orchardist to generate a decent income which contributed to providing a good quality life to his family. 

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 a priority for me,” states Umer.

His first opportunity arose when he received 600 orchard plants of pomegranate, guava and apple from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations as part of the support extended by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to revitalize the livelihoods of returning Temporarily Displaced Persons by promoting sustainable agriculture development. The support helped Umer establish his own pomegranate orchard which started bearing fruit shortly after. At the beginning, he was only able to produce enough fruit to bring home to his own family, however, as his yield grew he also started selling the fruit in the local market. The PKR150 000 income he generated from selling the fruit was the first step in pushing him forward towards his dreams. 

Using the arable land to cultivate seasonal vegetables such as okra, tomatoes and carrots, Umer was able to further increase his profits. He quickly picked up on advanced agricultural practices and opened his own shop. This helped make his dream of providing the best quality education to his children a reality.

COVID-19 adds new challenges to Umer’s life

The COVID-19 outbreak brought forth new challenges for farmers across the world. Umer’s disability made him particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. With the family shop closed, he lost a significant sum of earnings. He was initially worried about the situation, however, Umer then began carefully listening to Government advisories on prevention measures that will help him and his family stay safe. He decided to work on his own at the pomegranate orchard so that no other person was at a close distance. This way, he decided, not only will he be able to sustain his family’s income but will also be able to sell the fruit at the local market. 

At a time when food supply chains are severely disrupted, Umer continued to work hard in difficult circumstances to ensure that the fruit from his orchard reaches the local markets where there is a shortage of food items. With his shop closed and earnings affected, Umer was still able to sustain his income and provide for his family.   

“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 significantly contribute to reduction in poverty and economic inequalities by restoring subsistence and commercial agriculture in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa merged districts.