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Faces of Pro-Poor Growth: Females become entrepreneur onion farmers in Pakistan’s northern borderlands

By Hira Nafees Shah

Farmer Nasreen Bahar with her son in Chapali village, Chitral

Farmer Nasreen Bahar with her son in Chapali village, Chitral

A mother of two, Nasreen Bahar’s days were filled with worry. She lived with her in-laws in a village in the remote location of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while her husband worked in Islamabad.

The Chapali village where Nasreen lives is five hour’s drive away from Chitral city, and the road to get there is not properly constructed. The village is beautiful, despite its remoteness – but everyday life is a struggle for Nasreen and her family. There is no electricity or gas to the area, so the community came up with innovative ways to provide for their needs such as using hydro-power, but it doesn’t fully sustain the community’s requirements.

For the seven member household it was very difficult to make ends meet and, Nasreen’s major fear was not being able to afford education for her two children.

When a field team from a multi-national seed company, Magnus Kahl Seeds set up a demonstration plot in Chapali for onion seed farming, at the time, Nasreen thought nothing of it. But after seeing the benefits of growing onions, the entrepreneurial lady became interested and approached the Magnus team for more information.

They told her that growing onion seeds and bulbs in Chitral was advantageous, because the cool, dry and long days in the area were conducive for their growth. She became the first woman from Chapali village to work directly with the company.

Fast forward, two years and Nasreen is proudly growing onion seeds and bulbs on her land. This year she earned an extra, 26,000 Rs. (USD 248) from selling her produce to Magnus Kahl Seeds after a six-month cycle. She also grew and sold a small quantity of potatoes and tomatoes on her land, through which she earned an additional amount of Rs. 21,000 (USD 200) after the harvest.

This was a significant increase from her previous income from sewing suites which would only make Rs. 200 per suit, or 2,000 Rs (USD 19) for ten suits per winter season.

The additional income has really helped improve the quality of life for Nasreen’s family. Now that she is earning more, the burden on her husband and in-laws have decreased.

Farmer Nasreen Bahar working on her land in Chapali

Farmer Nasreen Bahar working on her land in Chapali

“Before I could not afford to send my children to school because money was so tight,” Nasreen said. “But now that I am making a good amount, my children are studying.”

Nasreen has been able to succeed in her work because of the support that she received from Magnus Kahl Seeds. The company not only provides onion seeds for planting to the farmers for free, but also gives them inputs such as pesticides etc. at subsidised rates. The company also provides tool-kits which protects their hands and enables them to plant onion seeds and weed them properly.

The company’s field agents also visit the farmers’ land often, giving them advice and examining the progress made in growing onion seeds and bulbs.

“MKS tells us about good agricultural practises whenever they visit us, said Nasreen. “They inform us about sowing, diseases for onions and effective irrigation practises, that we can apply on other crops as well.”

Magnus Kahl Seeds provides these facilities to farmers in Chitral, through their partnership with the Market Development Facility (MDF). The partnership is supported through Gender Equality Fund (GEF) funding from the Australian Government, to support women’s empowerment through businesses in the country.

Meanwhile after seeing the success of Nasreen’s onion bulbs, 15 other women from the Kargin village, have now taken up this profession by reaching out to the Magnus Kahl Seeds company.

For Nasreen, she is so motivated by her success, that she intends to expand her cultivation of onions next growing season. She also hopes to repair her house which was partially damaged by the earthquake in Chitral in 2015.

“I am very happy that I work hard and earn money for my family and I don’t have to ask anyone for anything,” she said.

MDF is working in the Horticulture sector in Pakistan to improve access to quality horticulture inputs for smallholder farmers and farmers located in remote areas. MDF also aims to work with suppliers of farm implements and horticulture systems to improve the availability and access to better farming practices. MDF is also working with processors of a range of fruits/vegetables in improving techniques including drying, pulping and further processing to produce value added goods from the remote regions of Pakistan to markets in the cities and for export.