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With high levels of poverty, limited access to food, and disturbed eating habits, every year millions of Pakistanis fall back into the trap of malnutrition. Action Against Hunger implements nutrition-sensitive programs in rural areas of Sindh to counter this threat
Almost 64 % of the population of Pakistan resides in rural areas and earns its livelihood from agricultural activities. According to the World Food Program, Pakistan as a major producer of wheat has become a food surplus country. The agriculture sector employs the largest number of people in the country, which exports more than 1 million metric tons of wheat annually.
Despite massive food production, the latest National Nutrition Survey revealed that 36.9 percent of the population in Pakistan is food insecure. Furthermore, two-fifth of Pakistanis – a population as large as Germany – live in multidimensional poverty. The Sindh province, where Action Against Hunger primarily work, is one of the most food-deprived provinces and bear the highest burden of malnourished children. These striking figures show the extent to which food insecurity must be considered as a matter of urgent importance and tackled accordingly.
Action Against Hunger, in support of the Accelerated Action Plan of the Government of Sindh, implements nutrition-sensitive programs in rural areas where the need is greatest. Our teams intervene in 10 districts* of the province, introducing kitchen gardening, climate-smart crop production, Livestock management including rearing goats, Poultry management, and community fish farming, combined with practical training, such as Farmers Field Schools. Apart from these activities, the Action Against Hunger mission in Pakistan is also promoting and introducing “Paddy fish farming”, “Zinc-fortification” and “Moringa Promotion” concepts as three pilot studies.
“In this particular area, more than 54% of households live below the poverty line, and cannot afford to buy diversified food or even struggle to get enough to eat. Moreover, most of the farmers focus on cultivating main crops like rice, wheat, or cotton, which is why they cannot include vegetables in their diet. We mobilized our teams to promote kitchen gardening to ensure the availability of diversified and good quality food within households. Sustainable methods in cultivation increase the availability of food, which in turn leads to its accessibility”, – Rao Ayub Khan, Senior Technical Agriculture Manager at Action Against Hunger in Pakistan.
Action Against Hunger teams encourage a “learning by doing” approach setting up practical training to show concrete benefits of the program. Farmer Field Schools have been designed for this purpose; sessions are organized regularly where new methods are tried and tested.
Most of the soil at the household level in this area is badly affected by salinity, thus making it impossible for families to grow vegetables. During Farmer Field Schools, small models of the vertical gardening system are produced on the spot, filled with good quality soil where vegetables are then cultivated. Therefore, a vertical gardening system is a best and most affordable option. This process of learning is conducted on a low scale, where locally available resources and recycled materials, such as bottles and tires, are largely used. At demonstration plots, facilitators from local communities work with women willing to cultivate vegetables in their own homes. After a short introduction and distribution of seeds, women are invited to join practical sessions where they can test new techniques, learn about improved methods of cultivation including pre- and post-harvest management. This is a long-term project, as later these essential kitchen gardening skills will be beneficial for whole families.
Challenges like waterlogging and salinity reduce agricultural yields and availability of food directly affecting nutrition. These can be overcome through adaptation and improved farming techniques. Action Against Hunger worked with small farmers, through extension methods such as establishing demonstration plots and training sessions to increase knowledge and behaviour change among farmers. This improves yields to ensure food security, particularly in areas prone to drought, waterlogging, and salinity. Improved adaptive cultivation methods are expected to increase crop yields and increase food diversity and security and improve nutrition.
Community fish farms are another important component of the project. Fresh and good quality fish is not affordable for many poor communities living in remote villages far from big cities. Paddy fish farming models, implemented in rural areas, provide farmers and their families with high-quality protein diets at reasonable rates.
“We have established a community fishpond here with 1500 fish inside of three types. We stocked them in April and recently partially harvested some and sold them to the local community at a subsidized rate so that they can consume fresh fish and improve their nutrition. The villagers are getting employment as well as nutritional benefits – two factors working in parallel”, Dr. Abdul Malik, Technical Aqua Culture officer at Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN).
For Action Against Hunger and its partners, markets should be responsive to the needs of poor communities and ensure that high-quality nutritious diets are available throughout the year at affordable prices.
Zareena, a low-scale entrepreneur and young mother, mentioned to Action Against Hunger teams, “Earlier we did not have sufficient resources for feeding our children”. She and her husband were continuously encountering difficulties in getting enough milk to feed their young children. Rozina, a small entrepreneur from Jamot village, could not get any food due to unavailability and shared that, “In the markets chicken meat is 300Rs per Kg and 20Rs per egg was way beyond our budget”**.
Goats and poultry distributions are an essential part of the project and provide families with stable and secure food resources. For instance, goats’ milk is nutritionally equivalent to mother’s milk and its fat is better for digestibility. Action Against Hunger teams are also providing support to women already working in the poultry business, to expand and stabilize their work. Like many women, Zareena and Rozina were able to benefit from these activities helping their families to have better and sustainable access to much-needed nutriments.
Social and behavior change in relation to eating habits is essential for sustainable changes in malnutrition as it helps to enhance food diversity more comprehensively. To address the challenge, Action Against Hunger teams together with Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) are assisting farmers with biofortification programs designed to fill gaps in the population’s diets as deficiencies in micronutrients such as Iron, Vitamin A, and Zinc are common in the area.
Muhammad Ramzan Malah is a farmer living in Lokadh district of Tando Allah Yar where the variety of wheat currently being cultivated is low in Zinc, a trace element that helps the body to create cells and process food: “We had never used this seed (- Zinc fortified seed, Action Against Hunger ) earlier; we cultivated it and after harvesting, we saved seeds for our next cultivation. We also shared our experience with other farmers so that they can also cultivate this kind of wheat. Zinc-fortified wheat is better in taste than a normal one and we feel healthier after including it in our diet.” Indeed, such seeds were mostly available in big cities like Islamabad, but today local farmers can cultivate it on their own. Action Against Hunger runs demonstration plots in each of the 10 districts in Sindh to showcase and promote zinc-fortified wheat for wider adoption across the communities.
The market systems in Pakistan are not resilient enough, especially during shocks, and tend to be volatile during a crisis or lean season. Action Against Hunger is working hand-in-hand with its local partner Rural Support Programmes Network to address this problem by empowering vulnerable communities in 1938 villages within ten districts of the Sindh province. Around 387,600 individuals and their households will benefit from different activities and training.
*Food security and livelihood component of the Programme for Improved Nutrition in Sindh is implemented in the following districts: Dadu, Jamshoro, Mitiari, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allah Yar, Sajawal, Thatta, Larkana, Qambar Shahdadkot, and Shikarpur.
** 300 Rs = 1,56 EUR / 20 Rs = 0,10 EUR