By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: Environmentalists believe food insecurity could be a major concern for Gilgit-Baltistan once the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project becomes operational.
G-B should focus on the production of apples in order to avert the emerging food shortage in the region.
This was stated by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Director Dr Babar Khan at the final evaluation of research and development pilot project titled ‘Enhancing the Value of Hydrological Resources for Livelihoods, Youth Employability and Climate Resilience in Gilgit-Baltistan’ on Saturday.
Speaking to participants, including UNDP and agriculture department representatives, at the project evaluation, Babar highlighted effects of climate change on agriculture and availability of agricultural land which is less than 2% in G-B which is surrounded by towering mountains.
He said it is believed CPEC will lead to a major boost in economic activity and rush of vehicles in the area and people will raise questions regarding food and accommodation.
“This is something we all need to think about,” he said.
Babar added the challenge can be overcome if the region focuses on producing apples.
The1 14-month pilot project was implemented by WWF, MARC and the agriculture department.
According to experts, the scheme will set the foundation for long-term strategies that will deal with issues concerning mountainous regions.
Under the project, high quality certified germ plasm/planting material of 12 new varieties of fruit trees (apple 3, apricot 2, cherry 3, peach 2, strawberry 2, blueberry 1, buck wheat 2) will be imported from the temperate environs of USA and Europe.
The fruit varieties were imported the third time because existing forms had lost their genetic vigour and strength, affecting both the quality and quantity of the produce. The material was planted in certain places for pre-field testing, certification and multiplication.
“Moreover, high efficiency irrigation systems—drip and sprinkler—was introduced to grow more trees and expand orchards,” Babar said. He added the new system consumed between 50% and 60% less irrigation water.
He also said agro-ecological zoning was applied to the project which will help formulate new agriculture policy.
Babar said the aim was to multiply and distribute imported germ plasm among 100,000 farmers of G-B during the next five years.
He said the agriculture department needed to be helped in order to multiply 2,000 plants into two million plants.
“The establishment of new nurseries of high quality imported germ plasm is also required,” Babar said. He added , horticultural value chains could also be set up that will increase employability and income generation. The latter solution will also address local food and water insecurity issues.
“We should build capacities of agricultural stakeholders and communities in science, policy and practice for public-private partnerships in agriculture sector to transform it from subsistence to commercial agriculture,” the doctor added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2016.