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Mountain Agricuture in GB : A Pipe Dream?


 GIVEN A UNIQUE geological setting, grandiose schemes to improve mountain-farming in Gilgit-Baltistan have heretofore been chugging along with intangible outcomes. This is fundamentally because no ordinary efforts other than concerted actions using latest innovative techniques can salvage the fragile mountain economy to turn the gloomy prospects into confidence at this juncture where things are precipitated by various factors foremost being that of environmental and demographic. It is to be seen that unimaginable changes have occasioned and rather rapidly across the region in the last four decades especially with great transformations taking places in economic terms which become straight away ascribable to enormous demographic pressures being witnessed along with severe climate change effects besetting the region. Thus, we are living in an environment of changing values as well with the inroads of rampant materialism heretofore unknown until half a century before. In such a strange milieu, the key question is how to care of all the needs of human society with a progressively downward spiral in agricultural productivity to diminish food security and deepening poverty with almost all the populace going below the poverty line which is defined s the minimum income evel required to achieve basic nutrition (calorie intake) and fulfillment of other basic needs. Alleviating poverty has long remained the buzzword overtime with a lot of talk on the subject going on with governments tirelessly waxing eloquent day in and day on the need of steps aimed at assuaging poverty and the efficacy of measures being taken to that end in this region. Comprising an extensive area of 72,496 sq. km, Gilgit-Batistan is host to barely some 600 villages/hamlets whilst the population density here gets reckoned with and hardly put at 12 persons per sq km. In the given strange geographical setting, merely 69,480 hectares (0.96%) as against the total area of 72,49,600 hectares is cultivable whereas about 60,000 hectares of cultivable land is going barren with the rest constituting rangeland, mountains, scarce forestland, lakes, glaciers, rivers etc.etc. In such a scenario, per capita and holding is 0.124 hectares keeps dwindling year by year as a result of a ceaseless fragmentation occurring on account of mounting demographic pressures further compounded by urbanization at some places. The major crops grow across the region are wheat, maize, barley etc., whilst fruits include apple, apricots, grapes, almonds, pears, etc. This is in addition to vegetables as well as fodder. A number of fruit farms/nurseries have been established to provide improved saplings of fruits whilst strivings remain underway to strengthen agricultural extension services. Of late, ETI has stepped obviously to come up with meaningful and result-oriented schemes to improve lot of small landholders in order that the entire area which deficient in cereal and vegetables production, is made well poised to overcome the yawning deficiency. It is noteworthy that in terms of cereals alone, there remains a wide gap of more or less 45% viewed in keeping with the demand and production. The situation persists despite government spending on the supply of wheat at subsidized rates. Likewise, there is a shortfall of about 20% when vegetable production is juxtaposed to the actual needs – a glaring deficiency perennially catered to by constant supply from the markets in down country by the private sector. Needless to say that the area is endowed with a potent base with its land offering an amazing fertility with added characteristics of producing luscious fruits – apricots, mulberry, grapes, apples, pears what and what not that are a stupendous source of attraction the world over provided the base gets broadened and measures taken as to giving a genuine boost to their marketability. But ironically, given the regions acute geography and geological setting, it has so far been an onerous task to bring more and more land under irrigation fundamentally because 98% of the total barren land is mountainous where strenuous efforts alone may enable lifting up water lowing far below the nullah, rivers, streams etc. to make barely one percent of the total area irrigable to add it up to the one percent already remaining cultivable land. As alluded to earlier, the area with its abundant water resources - has a strong potential for giving a genuine boost to mountains agriculture, livestock, forestry, trout-farming, orchard-making etc. for, significant allocations have to be made to modernize the existing methodology. The only hurdle in the context of development remains that of financial constraints for developing the much-needed infrastructure by employing latest mountain-farming technologies sans which bringing the remnant virgin land here under agriculture to broaden the base and to improve production levels of that already irrigated may be a pipe-dream. It is noteworthy that most of the water channels or to put it, the water course were built by the local people in ancient eras. These, though being taken care of in terms of their maintenance for silting, are outmoded and hence need be modernized at many places in order to raise their water carrying capacity. It is also worth mentioning that the respective communities are periodically undertaking maximal works on their own, to broaden the agricultural base while further extension of the facility in each locality but these strivings yield intangible results sans mountain-farming technologies access to which is beyond their tether. It has been emphasized time and again that ‘ram-pumping’ to lift water up from streams, rivers or rivulets laying far below could help while solar-pumps too would greatly instrumental in giving such a boost but the farmers cannot afford the same. It has to be born in mind that 80% of forests in GB are situated in Diamir district while the rest of the area in the region is, on a whole sparsely covered with forests. As against this gloomy prospect, a ruthless deforestation has ironically been occurring overtime and the horrific depletion of the sparse forest cover has resulted into horrific phenomena in terms of climate change as can be witnessed in form of increase in temperatures – something further catalyzed by the ‘Gobal Warming’. Various horrific phenomena are noticed with GLOF across the region and the vulnerability keeps on enhancing year by year. In the above backdrop, a new developmental paradigm with focus on imparting agricultural technologies assumes the centrality in the scheme of things to enable the poor farmers with negligible and landholdings. It was reported in the media sometime back showing a woman from Oshikhandas – a village in the vicinity of Gilgit city – how wonderfully she was able to grow abundant vegetables on a tiny piece of land by using vertical growth technology provided to her perhaps against the ongoing scheme named “Economic Transformation Initiative”(ETI) Gilgit. Likewise, it is said that a considerable area of land in Baltistan stands to have been irrigable/tillable by lifting water with solar energy pumps. Similarly, tunneling is yet another technique for the growing and preserving vegetables during the frigid cold season – something successfully experimented in upper and Middle Hunza Valley. These are in sum, selective experiments first to test their efficacy but once successful, need be replicated and popularized all across the region. No one can deny the efficacy of the above innovation to help the scarce landholders increase the yield but nevertheless, access to such technologies is well beyond the tether of the poor farmers possessing tiny land pieces. There is therefore the need of redesigning the strategy at the governmental levels to ensure access to the technology by conceiving schemes with hefty allocations. Overtime, the relevant governmental quarters, day in and day out, are seen waxing eloquent on the efficacy of the measures underway towards that end here in Gilgit-Baltistan. But nevertheless, the ground realities are precisely that much more is yet required to be done to empower the poor farmers here to bring about a veritable economic transformation. This is primarily because there appears no impressive change in terms of the mountain economy in Gilgit-Baltistan with the popular perception about it not reflective of a modest improvement. It seems that taking measures aimed at making the small farmer stand on their own in G-B’s context assume paramount importance and in this regard, G-B specific ‘institutional credits’ can play a vital role in enhancing their holding capacity and encouraging the spirit of enterprise which should happen largely at the initiative of the State Bank of Pakistan(SBP) aiming maximal agricultural credits by a commercial banks by way of one-window operation and simplified process on soft terms quite untrammeled. Currently, illiterate small farmers possessing tiny pieces of and are literally denied loaning facility whilst on the other hand, the procedure is cumbersome. The district administrations need be directed strictly to facilitate them in getting relevant documents from Patwar Khanas in an unhindered manner to help and expeditious process. It is to be recalled that starting in 1980s, Agha Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) worked hectically and assiduously in introducing innovative techniques in mountain farming as well creating awareness among the rural communities here. These ranged from crop substitution to orchard-making, afforestation etc., in keeping with per capita landholding which paid tangibly. Potato cultivation then gained popularity as a cash crop. But nevertheless, the situation has changed radically overtime with a marked increase in population and consequent fragmentation of the erstwhile landholding – something further exacerbated by urbanization taking place with an obvious inducement to the rural folk to migrate to urbanized centres. The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email: Visit blog:


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