Pakistan Flood: Seeding Recovery

Pakistan seeds

A man carries a bag of seed he received as part of Catholic Relief Services’ program to help farmers following massive flooding in Pakistan. Photo by CRS staff

In summer 2010, a massive flood destroyed crops on an unprecedented scale in southern Pakistan. Here, CRS emergency coordinator Gul Wali Khan and CRS Asia regional technical advisor in Agro-Enterprise Arielle Moinester talk about a CRS program that helped 11,000 families grow enough to eat—just in time.

How much time did you have to help farmers after the floodwaters receded?

Moinester: We knew we had to respond quickly or farmers would not be able to replant their fields in time for the next growing season. It was a one to three month window that we had to get seed to farmers in time for planting. The floodwater was still standing in September 2010, and the wheat planting generally spans October to December at the very latest, depending on the area. The wheat is essential for these households as it is the crop that they use to feed their families.

Summer is the rice and cotton season. Rice is their cash crop. Cotton and rice were the crops lost in summer 2010, during the floods.

How did you help farmers?

Khan: A lot of families lost everything—their house, their livestock, their crops. In terms of crops, what people needed most were seeds and tools. We asked farmers and seed companies what seeds people choose. We chose the top seeds, certified seeds that cannot be mixed with other kinds. We also gave vegetable seeds for kitchen gardening.

In October, we gave them vouchers they could use to buy the seeds and fertilizer. We covered 11,000 families. We also gave small cash grants for things like tractor rental time to plow the fields. Some farmers used the cash for irrigation or agricultural tools.

What were the challenges CRS faced in helping them?

Moinester: One complication in reaching poor farmers with maximum impact is the land tenure system. A large percentage of small farmers are tenant farmers, so they share their harvest with their landlords and being in debt to landlords is their normal situation. Because of the floods and destroyed crops, farmers were even deeper in debt and we needed to find a way to help the most vulnerable farmers. So we gave the vouchers directly to the small farmers who were returning to their farms. They would be able to use the voucher seed and fertilizer immediately in their fields.

What has been their response?

Khan: They were very happy. 98% of people planted their crops. They got the good seed and the fertilizer on time and have good yields.

It was good to see the excitement of people buying something for themselves. Usually when they buy seeds, it’s charged to them as a debt to their landlord. So they thanked us for not giving the items to their landlords. In that sense it really gave farmers a leg up. This direct support to the small farmers and tenants give a sense of empowerment and ownership.

Moinester: Because tenant farmers received their seeds and fertilizer from CRS and not from their landlords as they usually do, they were able to negotiate a smaller percentage of their harvest going to the landowner, which helped many farmers further reduce their debt. We were particularly happy about this compounded success.

How was the spring 2011 harvest?

Moinester: People are using the majority of their wheat for household use, giving some to the landlord to repay debts, and selling a small portion for cash. Through our project, farmers were able to reduce their debt by an average of 50%.

Khan: Our preliminary reports from farmers in a district called Kashmore are that farmers got an average 2.6 tons of wheat per acre, compared to 1.8 tons per acre for those farmers who used other seed.

In a district called Jacobabad, the average yield was 1.6 tons per acre for farmers who used our seed and around 1.3 tons for those farmers who used other seed.

What comes next?

Khan: They will plant rice in July. We’ll support rice farmers who didn’t receive the wheat-season help—we plan to reach 36,000 farmers. We will also support reconstruction and repair of canals, water courses, access roads and small bridges destroyed by the flood.

What made this project unique?

Moinester: We were, to my knowledge, the only organization that was able to get wheat seeds and fertilizer to farmers on a large scale in time for the planting season. This voucher approach isn’t a mainstream approach, but it really proved to be the right way to help in this situation. With this approach, we were able to cover a much larger area and reach many more farmers in a short period of time.

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