High altitude farming provides income and security to women
Gilgit-Baltistan, an administrative territory of Pakistan, is a forbidding landscape, with the world’s highest peaks and largest glaciers. Because it has four peaks higher than 8,000 metres and 60 peaks higher than 7,000 metres, it is internationally famous for mountaineering, rock climbing, and trekking.
Yet this dramatic terrain provides very specific challenges for the families who live there; in particular how to provide enough food to support themselves at high altitudes, and during the long winters.
UNDP has stepped in to provide tunnel farms — plastic hooped greenhouses which allow farmers to protect their crops during inclement weather, and provide increased yields of highly nutritious vegetables all year round.
Muciba Babar, 55, is one of those with a tunnel installed on her land, and she is delighted with the results.
“The tunnel has provided us with fresh vegetables for the first time ever in the winter season. It has also contributed to improving the economic condition of about ten families,” she says.
The project to improve the Central Karakoram National Park is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is implemented in Gilgit-Baltistan by UNDP.
Food insecurity is a big challenge in Pakistan, particularly in poorer, rural communities. And the country is one of the 16th most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. Northern areas are especially prone to snowstorms, landslides, floods and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.
The tunnel farming programme is aimed at lessening the effects of climate change by helping families to grow and sell food, as well as to share knowledge about sustainable livelihoods.
Twenty tunnels have been installed across Gilgit-Baltistan and families as well as having vegetables in the offseason are also generating extra income from selling their produce.
“It makes us feel empowered that we are able to contribute economically for our households. It also improves our social status and interactions with other people in the society,” says Rozina Babar, a local resident.
Rahimabad, in Gilgit District, comprises 1,600 households out of which about a quarter are very poor. The tunnels installed in the area are managed by 20 local women working in two shifts. All tunnels are owned, managed, and run by women.
They work in the fields preparing the soil, sowing seeds and growing seedlings, providing their families with homegrown food and making extra income.
The tunnels have played a vital role in improving the economic condition of these women and, by extension, their families. Seedlings of capsicum, tomatoes, cabbage, onion, chillies and garlic are produced in the tunnels and are sold in the local markets of Gilgit and Hunza.
From January till April 2019, about 16,500 seedlings were grown and the earnings from a single tunnel were about US$274.
The programme is also strengthening the bonds of friendship, as farmers work not only for themselves and their families but also to benefit the whole community, particularly those who are less well off.
“I believe that this piece of land is a gift for all of us. We should work collectively to benefit from this initiative and ultimately help the families which are in the ultra-poor category,” Mubica says. “The women from different households work together in this tunnel to make it a success and collectively enjoy the produce which is I think is the most beautiful aspect of this initiative.”
Text by UNDP Pakistan/Arish Naseem & Photos by UNDP Pakistan/Shuja Hakim