Dr Ghulam Ali & Syed Muhammad Abubakar
Mountain communities living in the Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir landscape such as Chitral, Gilgit-Baltistan are highly food and nutrition insecure.
Major drivers of food and nutrition insecurity include harsh climatic conditions, loss of agro-biodiversity, declining agricultural productivity, high poverty, growing population, poor market connectivity, land use change, youth turning away from agriculture, and emigration. Further, there is limited scientific research on agriculture and food systems to address these drivers of change.
Of all these challenges, climate change and loss of agro-biodiversity have become the biggest threats to food and nutrition security in the region.
In the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, more than half of the population suffers from food insecurity and have protein deficiencies. Changing rainfall patterns have resulted in a substantial decline in agricultural and livestock production, decreasing income in the province by almost 33 percent.
In the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) of Tajikistan, one of the most food-insecure areas in the country, climate change, including a shift in rainfall patterns and increasing rate of snow melt, has led to food insecurity, causing stunting and anaemia in children.
In Pakistan, parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral fall within the mountain communities. Here, most of the population is food-insecure because of climate change-induced flash floods and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) that have affected local agriculture, stability of food supply and farm and off-farm incomes.
A gradual decline in the cultivation of traditional food crops, particularly buckwheat, barley and millet, and decrease in native livestock, especially yaks, has resulted in a loss of agro-biodiversity in the region. As a result, food systems have become highly vulnerable to climatic and market shocks and the resultant decline in dietary diversity has impacted the nutritional status of the local communities.
The governments in mountain communities have taken policy measures to improve food and nutrition security. Pakistan, for instance, has endorsed several policy initiatives, such as the National Zero Hunger Programme and the National Food Security Policy (2018). The current Economic Transformation Initiative (ETI) project led by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the targetted projects for improving food security.
Afghanistan too developed a food security and nutrition agenda and a National Comprehensive Agriculture Development Priority Programme (2016-2021) to promote sustainable agriculture. In Tajikistan, food security is one of the strategic objectives of the National Development Strategy. In addition, the Nutrition and Physical Activity Strategy (2015-2024) outlines Tajikistan’s commitment to scaling-up nutrition and ensuring food security.
Parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral fall within mountain communities. Here, most of the population is food-insecure because of climate change-induced flash floods and glacial lake outburst floods that have affected the local agriculture.
Despite all these policy measures, mountain areas remain highly food-insecure and poor. These mountainous areas are still significantly behind in achieving sustainable agricultural production and food and nutrition security.
Mountain-specific policies based on local agro-ecological and climatic conditions are required to address the issue of food and nutrition insecurity in mountain communities. A coordinated approach is needed to develop appropriate solutions and policies and allocate special resources for remote and high-altitude areas. At the national level, this will require involvement and close coordination between government line agencies, civil society, research organisations, academia, donors and the private sector.
Climate change and agro-biodiversity loss also constitute trans-boundary threats to the sustainability of food systems. The key to achieving sustainable food and nutrition security at the landscape level is an upscaling of sustainable production and consumption practices.
Part of the solution to these problems is to advance holistic approaches, such as the food-energy-water-ecosystem, which emphasises the linkages and the potential impacts of actions in one policy area on the others. Relevant regional organisations which have expertise in these sectors can help design interventions for high altitude areas.
A multi-dimensional approach is vital to address the complex issues of high-altitude mountain food security. One of the ways to significantly enhance food and nutrition security is to enhance fodder production to meet livestock feed requirements in high altitude areas. This can be done by building demonstration farms to test the efficiency of new varieties of fodder plants as well as new crops and vegetables. The provision of clean energy, storage facilities, and food processing technologies can improve productivity and help reduce the burden on women.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, where yak herding is practised, the current livestock population per household is only up to 10 yaks, due to limited pasture productivity. The plantation of highland fodder which yields better output can encourage mountain communities to promote yak rearing. It will also contribute to yak wool production.
Promotion of eco-tourism, cultural tourism, and handicrafts can all contribute to expand the basket of livelihood options for the mountain communities. The mountain microclimate, geographical isolation, fewer diseases, and pests offer a favourable habitat to develop organic and high-value products across mountain communities. This can help meet the demands of downstream communities and even trans-boundary markets.
The semi-arid climate, glaciated mountains and snow deserts, meadows, forests, livestock and farming systems in the Gansu province of China are similar to that of northern Pakistan and Tajikistan. Gansu province has developed advanced mountain agricultural technology and is able to produce sufficient quantities of crop, fodder, vegetables and fruits.
Through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, there is a unique opportunity to transfer knowledge and best practices to Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
In this way, the CPEC can help enhance food and nutrition security along the corridor as well as provide opportunities to tap into the organic potential, ecotourism, and high-value medicinal products the region provides. This is possible through a better understanding of ecosystem health and climatic conditions of the landscape, greater exchange of good practices and knowledge related to mountain agriculture, targetted policy interventions and support at the national level and greater regional cooperation.