ISLAMABAD, June 18 (WNP): WWF-Pakistan, in collaboration with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Ministry of Food Security and Research, organized a national consultative workshop on to unlock the potential of organic farming, ecotourism and trade along the Silk Road here at a local hotel.
The workshop was organized with an aim to highlight that natural resources and ecosystem services of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral have marketable potential.
By means of this consultative workshop the organizers; ICIMOD, WWF-Pakistan and the Ministry of Food Security and Research, sought to bring together stakeholders to influence policy and decision making in the country.
The key speakers of the workshop included Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan, Farid Ahmad, Head Strategic Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, ICIMOD, and Asghar Mehmood, Director Agriculture, Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, Muhammad Azhar Ali, Chief Conservator of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Muhammad Ayub Additional Secretary, Ministry of Food Security and Research; and Mina Dowlatchahi, Country RepresentativeFood and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Pakistan.
Rab Nawaz welcomed the guests, and emphasized that organic production of food is necessary to ensure food security in the region. He also stressed on the need for stakeholders to act now to capitalize on the unexplored resources of the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral region. He said if Karachi is the economic hub of the country, then Gilgit-Baltistan is the ecological hub of Pakistan, and is the water tower of the country where food and energy synergy must be created to harness the region’s potential.
WWF-Pakistan successfully introduced organic cotton in Balochistan, and seeks to expand its work experience with the concerned departments and organizations in Gilgit-Baltistan.
He also suggested that the initiative must be catalyzed through small, rather than large projects, which take much longer to complete. He stressed on starting small and acting now.
Farid Ahmad, Head Strategic Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, ICIMOD spoke about bringing together stakeholders to promote mountain systems of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
With Pakistan being highly affected by climate change, smart agriculture is one way to lower the carbon footprint produced from agricultural activities.
He also added that borders must be seen as connecting points rather than boundaries and that mountain ecosystems have agricultural, trade and ecotourism potential which is unmatched.
Ten major river basins of the HKH region provide water and food to 240 million people as well as contributing globally.
Additionally, three billion people in the world consume food from mountain ecosystems.
Mina Dowlatchahi, Country Representative, FAO shared examples from Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATAnd Balochistan where agriculture encouraged female inclusivity and women entrepreneurship.
Some of the data pertaining to the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral region showed that these areas produce over 160,000 metric tons of fruits, however, almost 30 to 40 per cent is wasted and other products such as yak meat cannot be found commonly in other areas of Pakistan.
She said among other problems, low per capita income, unemployment and high migration rates are the main challenges faced by the people of the region.
Moreover, she also highlighted that lack of infrastructure, which makes the areas inaccessible, has marred the growth and promotion of local products.
Muhammad Ayub, Additional Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research spoke about the workshop as an opportunity in bringing agriculture, tourism and trade together as an integrated opportunity for sustainable economic growth in Pakistan which is inline with the vision of the prime minister.
Arif Makhdum, Technical Adviser, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Programme, WWF-Pakistan spoke about agricultural patterns, perceptions, attitudes and the potential of organic farming in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
While Atif Mughal, Consultant and Research Member with the WWF-Pakistan team, highlighted the many opportunities that exist in agro-tourism in the region.
He also spoke about how some local hotels including Hindukush Kitchen and Hidden Paradise have adopted organic farming by growing and cooking organic food for their guests.
Similarly, local jams and marmalades such as mulberry jam, which are not commonly available in other regions are produced in the area.
Experts also highlighted that in today’s time organic products have competitive market all over the world, but in Pakistan, the major conundrum is the distribution of these products, lack of value chains and cold chains.
Haider Raza, Regional Head Giglit-Baltistan, WWF-Pakistan in his closing remarks thanked all participants including Dr Muhammad Azeem, Member Planning Commission for Food Security and Climate Change for presenting recommendations in current initiatives of WWF-Pakistan and ICIMOD.
He also thanked the participants for their proactive participation in the workshop.