In Pakistan, A Life-Altering Experiment

ACF’s Technical Assistant Kendra Hughbanks reports from Thatta, Pakistan, where recurrent floods and changes in the water table have had dire impacts on food production.
Kendra with farmers in Pakistan.
Kendra with farmers in Pakistan.

The sun-baked fields that greeted me upon my arrival in Sindh province would be my destination on the second day of my visit. As our truck bounced down a rough dirt path between farming plots, an elderly man emerged from the crops.

He was nimble despite his age, and his peers and co-farmers had shown their respect for the depth of his agricultural knowledge by elevating him to Head Farmer for the village. He was kind enough to show the Action Against Hunger team from Garho and me how his crops were progressing. His wheat, tomato, and chili plantings all appeared to be thriving. But, he explained, he wasn’t just tending to his livelihood. He was leading an experiment that could determine his community’s future.

When the farmers here sowed their seeds at the start of the last growing season, we sought out volunteers whose crops had been suffering due to the salinity levels in the soil. On half of each plot, farmers would plant seeds of their choice—typically selected based on what was available in the market, which had not been always tested for reliability—and encouraged growth by using their standard chemical fertilizers. On the other half, farmers sowed seeds provided by us that had been tested for their success levels in high-saline soils. Our teams also trained farmers on how to create organic fertilizer using locally available material, which was then applied to the test seeds. At the end of the growing season, our team would work with farmers to compare the two harvests, looking at factors such as crop quality and yield to help measure the success rates of the seeds and fertilizer methods.

Many farmers were skeptical about dedicating half their land to unfamiliar crops. But we explained to each of them how the project could increase their harvests,—and if it didn’t, we would provide food aid to make up the difference. When the head farmer who met our arrival declared himself on board with the project, more of the community embraced our seeds and methods. This was a win-win situation: more participants meant we had more test cases to figure out what works here and what doesn’t. And, whether or not our crops are successful, the farmers who worked with us would reap the benefits of learning new methods that may help them with their traditional crops, and at least wouldn’t lose any of their livelihoods in the meantime.

But the experiment seemed to be working here. The head farmer was enthused. Where we saw a respectable garden, he saw a better life for himself and all who followed him.

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About Kendra Hughbanks

Kendra Hughbanks

Kendra is one of Action Against Hunger's Operations Assistants, supporting our headquarters staff and field teams in coordinating and integrating our programs.