By Raheel Iqbal
With an Area of 72000 sq.km, Gilgit Baltistan was formally known as Northern Areas. Majority of the people rely on agricultural resources and small businesses, despite so many natural resources, people of the region are not getting benefits out of it. Agriculture is the main source for feeding the majority of households but unfortunately, the farmers are still using traditional methods of farming which gives limited crop productivity and quality.
The current scenario of agriculture in Gilgit-Baltistan is miserable and requires immediate attention. Primitive vis-à-vis native cultivars are used in the cropping pattern and poor crop management practices are followed in rising of agronomic crops. No innovations for major field crop production and soil management are in practice, thus an ecological agricultural pattern is prevailing. Besides limited land holding, quality seed, traditional systems, and untrained labor is a big hindrance in step to progressive farming. More work is yet to be done for making the minds of the people towards the scientific means of agriculture, due to illiteracy the people don’t have any idea of new agricultural forms and they are still using the traditional means of farming. Therefore knowing the problems of the region the government of Gilgit Baltistan introduced a program named Economic Transformation Initiative (ETI).
Economic Transformation Initiative is a seven-year development program of Government of Gilgit Baltistan, co-funded by IFAD with a total cost of US$ 120.15 million to boost regional economic activity through agriculture value-chain development. The program aims at improving income, reducing poverty, and malnutrition in the rural area of Gilgit-Baltistan by irrigating 50,000-acre barren land. Moreover, 400 KM farm to market roads are also the part of program to connect farm and markets in remote areas where there is no road access.
With the limited resources the farmers of the region were using the traditional production means with limited productivity, but the program gives them the platform to boost their productivity through modern means of agriculture.
ETI-GB knowing the need took the responsibility and introduced Vertical Farming concept of agronomy in the region which involves contemporary practices of farming using less land with more yield. The program is facilitating more than 545 beneficiaries from four districts Ghizer, Gilgit, Astore, and Skardu in tomato and cucumber production. There are 237 beneficiaries of cucumber and 308 of tomato in these districts.
A structure is used to cover the crops for better fallout; the structure helps the seed to yield good and better productivity. Polythene sheets and aphid proof net is used to cover the structure. The sheets provide suitable temperature to the structure and also protect the crops from pests and insects. Each structure is 100 feet long, 7 feet high and 12 feet wide. The structure is built by GI pipe material of 20-mm diameter 20 feet length, and round-shaped mild steel iron rods of 12-mm diameter and 2 feet length. Each pipe is stretched with GI wire at the center and both ends of the pipe. Inside the structure, a crop net is used to provide support for the crops and for suitable ventilation, use of modern fertilizers and pesticides provide a perfect environment for the crops and gives quality production.
The results of the vertical farming are very phenomenal; ETI provides technical assistance for all the VPGs by hiring consultants for nursery raising, nursery transplantation, off shooting, spraying, and packaging of the products. ETI-GB set sale points at Bunji and Astore also arrange exposure visits of beneficiaries to down country markets to link them with the market and to sell their product more profitably. The fallouts of the program are very good and all the beneficiaries are earning well for growing their household income.
Moreover, the program is not only helpful for the household earnings but also to give the quality crops to the market, so that the local masses could get benefit from it.
Female beneficiaries are encouraged to participate and they are given much importance to take part in this innovative means of farming. Majority of the female beneficiaries are now earning well and are participating to mount the household incomes.
A female beneficiary named Younan from Gulmati Ghizer also used this innovative practice of vertical farming and get benefit from it. She used to earn a limited amount of money using traditional farming means, but after using vertical farming technique she has earned Rs.73, 500, and sells 1580 kg of tomato in the very first harvest.
The vertical farming process enabled her to increase the productivity and household income .she use to sell tomatoes on small scale to feed her children, but the innovative vertical farming technique gives her courage to boost productivity and to sell the tomato in a larger amount. Younan also believes that if she gets more profit from the program, more women like her will follow this new way of farming to sustain their household income. Younan is very satisfied with the affirmative project of ETI and is very grateful for making the poor farmers self-dependent and financially vagarious to overcome poverty. Women empowerment has always been a central objective of ETI and for that, the program has always been in front by introducing different programs that could help the needful women of the society and for the uplift of their social life.
ETI-GB as a reputed organization has always been on front to triumph over the issues related to the region and also working to strengthen the poor masses of Gilgit Baltistan. As we all know that agriculture has always been the primary source for feeding the masses of the area, so the program of ETI mainly depends on eradicating poverty through agricultural uplift. Vertical
Farming is also one of the foremost ideas to increase productivity and to introduce new farming approaches. People of the region deem that the new scientific means of farming will bring change in the agricultural process in the region and will boost productivity and efficiency.
Knowing the need and success of the program ETI is firmed to introduce more productive and modern farms like vertical farming in future. With the potential of agricultural resources and needs of the people, such programs will support the deprived segment of society to sustain its financial barriers and to overcome poverty.