The environment lies at the heart of GRASP (en)
Managing environmental risks is a major theme of the Growth for Rural Advancement and Sustainable Progress (GRASP) programme in Pakistan, worth $55 million and funded by the delegation of the European Union to Pakistan. Pakistan is ranked as one of the 10 nations most at risk from climate change. It faces multiple challenges from declining water availability and quality and extreme weather bringing floods and droughts.
Farmers are at the sharp end of these impacts, battling to maintain yields and to meet the public’s expectation to minimize the impact of food production on the environment.
The GRASP mission to Pakistan to launch the project’s inception phase in September 2019 gave the International Trade Centre (ITC) team an opportunity to experience and understand environment-related challenges facing the country’s livestock and horticulture sectors. It was also in a position to view some unique solutions.
An hour outside Karachi, a seaside city of 15 million people, is a large dairy and beef farm. Owned by Jamil Memon, it holds 4,500 cows and 2,500 buffalo producing milk for the Karachi market. Managing waste to avoid local water contamination is a main environmental concern in the dairy sector.
Memon is testing a new technology to convert manure into pellets that fire boilers. This will help reduce the amount of waste disposal and generate income through sales to local industry.
Another innovation is on the marketing side, where he packages the farm’s buffalo and cow’s milk as hormone free and sells it directly to Karachi’s main supermarket at a 20% premium.
Adding value in this way means he can avoid having to accept prices fixed by the local district committee, a long-standing policy that farmers criticize for reducing incentives to invest in the sector.
The other sector that ITC will support is horticulture. In Balochistan province, an arid area bordering Afghanistan and Iran, colleagues from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations drove us out to visit two orchards growing grapes and apples. In both it was clear that the use of water was unsustainable and of grave concern for the future of the province.
An apple grower there told us that when he started pumping water 20 years ago, it was at 200 feet (61 metres) below ground. It is now at 600 feet below ground. There are very limited incentives for conservation of water.The grower receives a government subsidy to bore holes into the ground aquifers and extract water, paying only 10% of the diesel costs to run the pumps.
What’s more, farms across Pakistan have installed solar panels so running the pumps comes at zero cost. As a result there are entrenched traditional practices of flood irrigation, whereby the farmers open the taps and an entire field is covered with water.
In addition to huge losses through evaporation, flood irrigation also causes waterlogging.
Addressing these issues will require GRASP to engage both at the farm level to demonstrate water-saving technologies while working at the policy level to explore ways to improve incentives for sustainable water management in the province.
One of the largest projects currently implemented by ITC, GRASP is a six-year initiative designed to reduce poverty in Pakistan by strengthening small-scale agribusinesses in Balochistan and Sindh provinces. It helps small and medium-sized enterprises in horticulture and livestock become more competitive by making improvements at all levels of the value chain.