Islamic Relief has joined with local communities to campaign for a better deal for farmers in two regions of Pakistan.

People were brought together to discuss solutions.

People were brought together to discuss solutions.

In Neelum and Bagh districts of Azad Kashmir in north-central Pakistan, farmers have seen the effects of a changing climate, with trees being drier, snow not falling as much, and the duration of planting seasons narrowing. Forestry, livestock and agriculture are the mainstay of livelihoods for the communities, particularly those living at high altitude and in remote valleys. Owing to conventional agricultural practices and low private and public sector employment opportunities, the increase in population has stretched natural resources – agriculture, water, and forestry – to the limit. In many areas, soil has lost its nutrients, and farmers have to use more chemicals and manure to get the same produce.

Islamic Relief hosted planning meetings and consultations in Neelum and Bagh to collect a variety of responses about life of farmers in the region. The meetings were attended by various officials, including the director generals of both agriculture and livestock, and professors from AJK University. The conferences were therefore an opportunity to open dialogue between farmers and government officials and find a way forward for everybody.

Having an open dialogue

Sarmad Iqbal, advocacy and campaigns specialist at Islamic Relief in Pakistan, said: “There were a number of commitments made on the day to address gaps and devise joint plans, including how to monitor work for effectiveness. The decisions made are important, but equally so is the fact that farmers and government officials were able to put their opinions across and come to a consensus on what should be done.”

Among the decisions made were increased allocation in resources for medicines for livestock, and the collection of data needed for vaccinations, so they can be built into the following year’s budget. A number of new livestock officers will be based in Neelum to provide much needed assistance and support to families who rely solely on livestock to make a living.

The director general of agriculture also agreed to increase support to farmers. Communities and district authorities will work together to collect information on the seeds required locally so this can be fed into the following year’s budget. Seeds stores will also be opened in remote areas. They will also work to improve coordination between communities and agriculture officials to ensure changes and needs are better understood and responded to. As part of this, HE committed to improve the availability of seeds to the local farming community, and to feedback on demand so farmers knew more about the market. The impact of deteriorating agriculture on the economy will become a research focus area at AJK University.

In both districts, the government will provide motorbikes temporarily to government staff to allow them to better access parts of the region when carrying out the project. A helpline will also be set up so farmers can access information and launch complaints if necessary.

Sarmad Iqbal added: “This is one of the best examples of community-led advocacy. It has given communities a chance to highlight their issues and resolve them through a dialogue with the government.”

Islamic Relief Pakistan has been working with farmers on climate-mitigation and resilience, aiming to transform local communities to self-sustaining, disaster resilient, organized and continuously developing societies, and earlier this year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the AJK government to reduce the impact of disasters across the region.