A hub of agricultural activity, Pakistan should -- in theory -- have enough food to meet the nutrition and dietary needs of all of its people. And yet, every year, millions of Pakistanis fall into hunger. Driving factors include high poverty rates, limited access to healthy food, and poor diets.
Nearly 64% of Pakistan's population lives in rural areas and, across the country, the agricultural sector is the largest source of employment. According to the World Food Program, Pakistan is one of the main producers of wheat on the planet; the country exports more than one million tons of the grain every year.
Despite massive food production, according to the latest national nutrition survey, 36.9 percent of Pakistan's population suffers from food insecurity. Forty percent of Pakistanis -- more than 80 million people - live below the poverty line.
Sindh province, where the majority of Action Against Hunger's programs in Pakistan are located, is home to the country's highest number of malnourished children. Across ten of the province's districts, our teams are preventing hunger through a variety of activities, including hosting Farmer Field Schools, supporting home vegetable gardens, introducing climate-resilient crops, helping families manage livestock and breed goats and poultry, and teaching people how to farm fish.
"In this region, more than half of the families live below the poverty line, struggle to get enough food, and cannot afford to buy a variety of foods. Most farmers focus on staple crops like rice, wheat, or cotton, which means they often don't have vegetables included in their diets," explains Rao Ayub Khan, Agricultural Technical Manager for Action Against Hunger in Pakistan. "We have mobilized our teams to promote home vegetable gardens to guarantee that diverse, good quality food is available within households. Sustainable cultivation methods increase availability of food, which makes it more accessible."
In Sindh, soil salinity levels are very high, which makes it difficult for families to grow vegetables. To help combat this, vertical gardening systems are one affordable and effective way to produce crops at home. They are built with locally available resources and recycled materials, such as bottles and tires, and filled with good quality soil where vegetables can grow.
At our Farmer Field Schools, our teams employ a “learn by doing” approach and have produced several small models of vertical gardening systems so that agricultural students can learn how to use them properly and consider adopting them at home. On demonstration plots, local facilitators train and supply seeds to women vegetable growers. During practical sessions, participants can try new techniques and learn improved cultivation methods, including pre-harvest and post-harvest management.
Inadequate access to water and high levels of soil salinity – both consequences of climate change – reduce agricultural yields and food availability, impacting nutrition. These problems can be overcome by adapting and improving agricultural techniques. Action Against Hunger works with smallholder farmers to increase knowledge and change behaviors. Improved and adaptive cultivation methods can increase crop yields and food diversity and security, leading to better nutrition.
IMPROVING DIET DIVERSITY WITH FISH, GOATS, AND POULTRY
Healthy nutrition isn’t just about vegetables. But, in many poor and hard-to-reach communities, sources of protein, such as fresh, good quality fish, are too expensive for most families. Action Against Hunger’s aquaculture and livestock programs help provide farmers and their families with high quality protein diets at reasonable prices.
“We have established a community pond here with 1,500 fish. We stored them in April and recently we harvested some of them and sold them to the local community at a subsidized price so they could eat fresh fish and improve their diet. Villagers get employment as well as nutritional benefits - two factors that work in parallel,” says Dr. Abdul Malik, Technical Manager of Aquaculture at the Rural Program Support Network.
Action Against Hunger provides households with pregnant or breastfeeding women with goats and poultry, helping families with young children to have sustainable healthy food sources. Just one benefit of these livestock: goat milk is nutritionally equivalent to breast milk, and its fat is more digestible. Our teams also support women working in the poultry sector to develop and stabilize their work.
“Before, we didn't have enough resources to feed our children,” recalls Zareena, a young mother and entrepreneur. She and her husband were having difficulty getting enough milk to feed their young children. Rozina, an entrepreneur from the village of Jamot, shared her concerns: “In the markets, chicken meat is 300R per kilogram [approximately $4 per pound] and 20R [$0.12] per egg, [it] was way beyond our budget.”
Like many women who participate in Action Against Hunger’s food security programs in Sindh, Zareena and Rozina are helping their families have improved, sustainable access to the nutrients they need to survive and thrive.
To prevent malnutrition through improved diets, Action Against Hunger and our partners help farmers to set up biofortification programs designed to fill dietary gaps, such as common micronutrient deficiencies like iron, vitamin A, and Zinc.
Muhammad Ramzan Malah is a farmer in Lokadh district, where the local wheat variety is low in Zinc, a nutrient that helps the body create cells and assimilate food. Our teams helped him grow a new, Zinc-enriched crop that was previously only available in the country’s big cities.
“We had never used this seed before. We grew it and, after harvesting, we saved the seeds for our next crop. We also shared our experience with other farmers so that they could grow this type of wheat as well. Zinc-enriched wheat tastes better than regular wheat and we feel healthier after incorporating it into our diet,” he says.
Action Against Hunger is running demonstration plots in each of the ten districts of Sindh so that Zinc-enriched wheat to encourage wide adoption by communities.