By Adil Zareef and Fazal Maula Zahid
May 1, 2014
Barikot- the history
Swat Valley, once known for its mesmerising natural beauty, has only recently become the victim of militancy. Given its rich Gandhara Civilisation heritage, its variegated history and colourful folklore, it was once a tourist haven.
As of now, the valley’s economy is dominated by agriculture. More than 75 per cent of the population has a rural background, directly dependent on farming. Landless farmers are also an important category. These ‘Gujjars’ traditionally keep animals like buffaloes and cows for livelihood. Women play an important — but often overlooked — role in agriculture when it comes to growing food and animal husbandry. Out of the total population of two million people, the livelihood patterns of 1.5 million are dependent on direct farm or farm-related livelihoods. The land normally under cultivation is about 0.1 million hectares, out of which about 50 per cent is rain-fed.
The farming system in Swat is certainly a model for the rest of Pakistan as it boasts of a blend of both the traditional and non-traditional cropping patterns — in fruits, cereals, vegetables, non-timber forest products, medicinal herbs, honey, silk, nursery production and so on. It emerged, in a short span of time, as the hub of a variety of fruit growing orchards, off-season vegetables and cereal crops with excellent production, value addition and supply chains.
Maize grain cultivated in Swat has an edge in market in Pakistan because of its quality and flavour. Swati rice is also renowned for quality. Market players, industrialists, transporters and multinational firms have established their effective networks in the valley and earn millions of rupees in each fruit season. It attracts skilled workers of down districts and Punjab to work in the fruit growing areas of Swat. It employs 56 per cent of the local labour force throughout the year.
Until recently, Swat was a centre of soybean cultivation and the preferred choice of the orchard farmers till the government removed subsidies and its production dropped. This multi-utility crop has many positive benefits. Soybean seeds from Upper Swat were exported for plantation in other parts of the country.
Honey from Swat is a famous product across the globe for its unique flavour. Its distinctiveness has ranked it higher both in price and demand. Farmer delegations from across the country once visited Swat to learn the agricultural practices here. Similarly, many experts from the globe worked here and appreciated the role of the local farmers in the development of agriculture and its by-products.
Swat is the food reservoir not only for the two million people that comprise its populace, but also for billions of other living species including diverse plants, wildlife, birds, bees and micro-organisms. Rare and precious natural resources are now under severe threat, owing to unsustainable development. Fertile green land is being converted into roads, homes, townships schemes and so on.
The above facts reveal that such precious but limited resources require proper land use planning. It not only benefits the locals, but also the whole country. Forests and mountains in Swat play a role as water reservoirs for downstream districts. Irrigation of the Pakistani plains depends upon the Swat River, which gets replenished by the yearly snow on hilltops.
Proposed military cantonments in fertile lands of Kabal, Khwaza Khela and Barikot will most likely irreversibly impact this traditional food basket, which not only sustains the livelihoods of the local population but also contributes to the food security of the rest of the country and earns huge foreign exchange for the national exchequer.
Building cantonments threaten to convert the traditional ‘green growth’ into ‘brown growth’, considering its long-term negative impact on ecology and economy. This kind of a model needs to be challenged by environmental and agriculture experts and policymakers.
Adil Zareef is a member of the Sarhad Conservation Network and Fazal Maula Zahid is an agriculture expert presently working in the ministry of national food security