PESHAWAR – Life for Sanaullah Shah was never as hard as it has been for the past few years.
“I have 100 acres of fertile land that can grow all sorts of crops, but the wave of militancy has turned our field to barren land,” the 52-year-old South Waziristan resident told Central Asia Online.
Like other farmers in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), he used to earn a decent income yearly, but the militancy that took off in 2007 has slowly but regularly sapped his livelihood.
Shah is apparently not alone.
“I know at least 50 land-owning families who have become so poor that they don’t have enough food for their own use,” he said. “About five years ago, the farmers were well off.”
Impact on economy, citizens
Agriculture accounted for 25.9% of Pakistan’s GDP in 1999-2000, but its share dwindled to 21.3% in 2009-2010, according to the 2012 Economic Survey of Pakistan.
Neglect of irrigation systems has forced FATA farmers to growing farming cereal crops, it said. Before the militancy surged in 2007, 65% of the FATA population worked in agriculture, the survey said. Today, after all the disruptions, only 40% do.
“[Besides other aspects of agriculture], the orchards in North and South Waziristan that produced high-quality plums, pine kernels, apricots, pears, peaches and pomegranates have been badly affected by the endless wave of militancy,” Muhammad Shakoor, a field assistant at the FATA Agriculture and Livestock Department, said.
Militants habitually cut power lines in the tribal areas, he said, adding that such sabotage has brought farming in Kurram, Khyber, Bajaur and Orakzai agencies to a standstill.
“In 2000, about 35% of households lived below the poverty line in FATA, which reached 66% in 2011,” Shakoor said.
“We used to grow wheat, vegetables and fruits for the other parts of the country, but now everything is in shambles,” Khyber Agency resident Muhammad Gul said. “Now we don’t have enough food for own personal use, let alone for commerce.”
Likewise, farmers in Waziristan, who are respected for breeding sheep and producing high-quality wheat and maize, have been on the receiving end of the violence.
Fear of the Taliban has discouraged agricultural consultants from venturing out even to peaceful areas of FATA, South Waziristan resident Saleh Muhammad said.
Kurram Agency farmers suffered, as did their counterparts elsewhere in FATA. “We earned Rs. 5m (US $46,000) [yearly in 2005] from a variety of apples known for their flavour and sweetness,” Parachinar-based farmer Shaiq Hussain said. “Our income dropped to a meagre Rs. 500,000 (US $4,600) [in 2011].”
“Farmers faced problems in transporting their goods to markets due to closure of roads,” he said. “Last year, the people [of Kurram] lost more than Rs. 250m (US $2.3m).”
FATA taking steps
To help farmers recover from those challenges, authorities in FATA have launched numerous programmes to strengthen agriculture.
“We are preparing the farmers to increase their output by employing modern techniques,” an official of the FATA Department of Agriculture Extension, said.
The programme focuses on land reclamation, training farmers in off-season vegetable and mushroom cultivation and establishing farm service centres to boost their yield, he said.
“We are establishing tea plantations in Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur and South Waziristan agencies where 50,000 plants would be cultivated every year,” he said.
Results in the tea plantations indicate a bright future for that crop, he said.
FATA vs. Malakand
Farmers in Malakand Division, in adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, who suffered from the militancy between 2007 and 2009, are also back in business.
A 2012 survey by the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) showed that nearly 48% of Pakistan’s total fruit is produced in KP – with Swat District being a major contributor with 25%, which decreased to 10% when the Taliban ruled Malakand Division from 2007 to 2009, Murad Shah, secretary of the Malakand Farmers’ Association, said.
An estimated 55% to 70% of the fruit grown in Malakand went to waste during the era of Taliban shelling and bombings and the curfews and road blockades that authorities had to impose, he added.
However, the restoration of security after a 2009 military operation in Malakand has meant a resumption of fruit and vegetable exports after the 2007-2009 Taliban reign of terror forced a halt. Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla districts are producing bumper crops of oranges, apple, grapes, peaches, persimmon and other fruits again, Malakand Farmers’ Association Secretary Murad Shah said.
Swat alone grows 18% of the country’s tomatoes.
“In the past two years, we earned about Rs 3.5m (US $32,000) [total] just from maize,” Dir farmer Shinwar Shah said. “We are getting help from the government’s experts on regular basis.”