FAO in Pakistan

When I counted cash for my uncle!

It was the early 1980s. In the beautiful Husseini village in Upper Hunza Valley, people like most areas in rural Gilgit Balitistan led a life of self-subsistence and looked towards the more developed south of the country for meeting most of their needs. It was also a time when almost 80% of the local population lived below the poverty line.

Villagers grew and ate their own food and milked their own cows without any ideas of how to use what they had to improve the quality of life for them and their children.

The local climate was very suitable for cultivating potatoes but the quality of seed that was being used brought produce just enough to feed their children. 

Muzaffar Ud Din, Chief Executive Officer at the Agha Khan Rural Support Programme was a school boy then and describes the surprise his maternal uncle gave him one day when he returned from school.

“Look, I have thirty thousand rupees!” His uncle had showed him the rupee notes with excitement.

“Cash was a rare find in our village and my uncle didn’t know what to do with it” recalls Muzaffar.

Muzaffar’s uncle had sold his potatoes in the market and earned the money. What was special was that these potatoes had been grown using the seeds that Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) had provided to the communities.

Almost 35 years ago, FAO had focused on horticulture, livestock and building capacity of government institutions in the area. Research based interventions that transformed traditional cropping patterns and helped farmers adopt innovative techniques and models were what FAO became known for at that time.

The introduction of the better seed potato variety simply changed the lives of the people in our village. 

FAO not only introduced good quality potato seeds, established storages but also helped farmers create market linkages to empower the farmers. 

Almost 50% of the population in Husseini village was now holding cash in hand. It simply changed the way they lived.

“After I had counted the cash for my uncle, he asked me and his sons to go buy new notebooks, books and stationery items for ourselves. We were all so excited” smiles Muzaffar. 

Potatoes remain a source of handsome returns for the people in the area but it was FAO’s work that helped reduce poverty by enabling people earn extra income used on educating their children and holding some savings for ensuring a better life.