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Picking the pieces up after decades of conflict involves more than just rebuilding homes; ensuring food security is as important to rebooting FATA | Photos by Ghazi Ghazan Jamal
Picking the pieces up after decades of conflict involves more than just rebuilding homes; ensuring food security is as important to rebooting FATA | Photos by Ghazi Ghazan Jamal

Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is known as “Ilaaqa Ghair” or “No Man’s Land” to the general public. In the eyes of the tribal people, however, it is widely known as “Yaghistan” — where no government exists.

Mostly a hilly terrain, the erstwhile tribal region scattered over 27,000 square kilometres, from Bajaur Agency to South Waziristan, has now been integrated into Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, after a speedy exercise of passing the 31st Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. This has effectively removed the term “FATA” from the constitution as a separate unit, thus enabling the people to get rid of the century-old draconian law, Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) — called “black law” in the new set of Interim Governance Regulation 2018, officially endorsed by the President of Pakistan.

Deprived for almost 100 years from proper documentation and development, this historic amendment would enable the six to seven million tribal people into the mainstream and at par with other parts of Pakistan to develop, foster integration, and benefit from basic services as enjoyed by the rest of Pakistanis. The process could be long and time-consuming, but it is expected to address the long-standing anomalies and depravation of people to a greater extent, once things are on track.

FATA consists of seven tribal districts, commonly known as agencies, with approximately 3,000 rural villages, housing around five million people. Less than four percent of the population resides in established townships; it is thus the most rural administrative unit in Pakistan. Overall literacy rate is less than 30 percent while the rest of the country stands at 56 percent. Statistics place more than 70 percent of the population as dependent on subsistence agriculture. The average per capita income today is about a dollar a day, which is half of the national per capita income. This situation indicates the present status of the people — traumatised by frequent displacements, mentally and physically demoralised, and landlocked in a no man’s land where life is remains static.

In the absence of funds needed to redevelop FATA, policymakers need to turn to indigenous solutions

The most difficult part for the government is how to prioritise the issues and challenges being faced by the common tribal folk and to meet their unmet demands, in the absence of essential infrastructure, as it exists down country. The fact of the matter is that the tribal region carries a huge burden of issues and challenges, but likewise, it also opens up a door to numerous opportunities and untapped resources.

In other words, sustainable peace is linked to agriculture becoming an engine of growth in FATA.


Agriculture remains the mainstay of all FATA districts as more than 65 percent of the population is directly dependent on it for their food supplies. With slight variation in farming patterns from north to south, the vast population is normally involved in crop production and livestock rearing, agro- forestry & fruit orchards, especially apples and vegetables.

Of the total reported area of 2.72 million hectares, cultivated area is a meagre 0.14 million hectares. Irrigated land is more or less 0.08 million hectares and uncultivated area is said to be 2.58 million hectare. Wastelands that can be brought under cultivation are around 0.18 million hectares.

Farmers normally grow diversity of crops, vegetables and fruits on small and dispersed pieces of lands to get their food and subsistence income. The role of children and women, even though taken for granted, is instrumental in farming, grazing cattle, thrashing crops, fruit picking, packing and collecting water. Farming patterns are complex and production per unit area is lowest due to the restriction in movements and lack of technologies, dearth of irrigation water and difficulty in access to quality inputs at the small-farm level.

Entire villages were razed during decades of conflict, destroying farms and orchards that locals used to maintain
Entire villages were razed during decades of conflict, destroying farms and orchards that locals used to maintain

According to a 2016 report compiled by the UN World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Rescue Committee and Food Security Cluster and Civil Secretariat Fata, tribesmen who returned to their homes after war have been left vulnerable to food insecurity. This is closely linked with livelihood. Hence food assistance, either through food-for-work or cash-for-work modalities, would be an important means to enhance their food security as well as to create durable assets and improve livelihoods.

The production potential of the land has been reduced considerably due to many factors. It is not only limited to protracted conflicts, enforced migrations or the breakdown of traditional socio-economic patterns.

According to the report, almost 90 percent of returnees were living in kacha (mud) houses, 52 percent were consuming unsafe drinking water, and less than a tenth were using any water purification system. Sanitation is a serious concern with 56 percent of men and 12 percent of women practicing open defecation.

Overall, six percent of the households were headed by women. There was a large difference in education levels between men and women, only one third of the heads of households had any education, while among women-headed households, this figure was only 15 percent compared to 36 percent for men.

“Women-headed households had worse food security indicators in terms of food consumption scores and caloric intake,” according to the findings of the report, “and thus a higher proportion of these households had to resort to multiple and negative coping strategies.”

If the government is serious in bridging the huge development gap in the tribal districts, it will have to replace the present traditional system on war footing and undertake crash programs.


Food insecurity does not mean non-availability of food, but it is perceived to be the condition where people cannot purchase food items fulfilling the normal body requirements due to extreme poverty.

The first and foremost challenge for this most marginalised, militarised and conflict-ridden part of Pakistan is the widely prevalent food insecurity among populations across its landscape, particularly in the aftermath of militant and military operations since two decades. Available statistics are worrying: three-fourths of the population lives below the poverty line while infants are highly malnourished, stunted and wasted, and that puts the mortality rate of these infants as the highest in Pakistan.

“The returnee populations are vulnerable to food insecurity. Overall, 28 percent of the households have acceptable food consumption, 18 percent have poor consumption, while 54 percent have borderline consumption and 44 percent of households suffer from a caloric consumption deficit, considering a minimum daily requirement of 2,100 KCal per person,” reads the UN report in 2016.

The production potential of the lands has been reduced considerably due to many factors. It is not only limited to protracted conflicts, enforced migrations or the breakdown of traditional socio-economic patterns leading to diversity of economic activities outside FATA. Nor is it simply about restrictions on movement and long curfews creating barriers to trading patterns, fragmentation of lands and non-availability of quality inputs, including timely irrigation water for cultivation. There also exists the use of munitions, land mines, militant activities and military operations, restricting a normal lifestyle based on subsistence farming and thus impoverishing a large population who live on local food products and barter systems. Rebooting agriculture is about framing a solution that takes all of the above into consideration.

The net food production is presently as low as 30 percent of its total potential and needs to be enhanced through new technical innovations. Wastelands need to be brought under cultivation, by addressing the issues hampering this. Add to this vast potential the trend of growing olives and quality grapes — currently done on scarce water. About 40 million naturally-growing wild olives groves can be converted into European-type species, for higher yield of fruit and oil through grafting. An Olive & Grapes Research Institute on the pattern of Izmir, Turkey, should be established in North Waziristan with substations in all seven districts and their sub-tehsils.

Proactive steps for the provision of free seed inputs and farmer training need to be taken. Small landholding farmers need interest-free loans for at least the next 10 years which are recoverable in easy instalments and without red tape in obtaining guarantees. This will provide opportunities for enterprising youth to make decisions for innovative farm development and adopt livelihood patterns. The successful model of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is relevant for revolution in uplifting the socio-economic condition of vulnerable families, and making them a food secure community.

Similar to Mohmand district, where the FATA Chamber of Commerce has established Marble City on hundreds of acres of land, establishment of an “Olive Oil City” may be considered in North Waziristan. A one-window operation would ultimately benefit the people of FATA as olive development — from technologies to plants provision, fruit processing to olive oil extraction, value addition, and sale points — will all help in creating produce for regional markets in the wake of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) scenario.

This region has a potential to become a major centre for international market in producing organic and natural foods, that can boost the socio-economic status of farming community within a short span of time.

All districts and sub-districts would also greatly benefit from the rapid development of infrastructure, roads, hospitals, schools and colleges and universities. The revival of sports and historic Safari train tract from Peshawar to Landikotal and its further expansion to all districts may be considered as revival of global linkages in the tourism industry.

Peace will be difficult to sustain if FATA’s basic need of food security is not addressed. This is only possible if the government declares “A state of emergency for developing FATA” and all development actors come up to join hands and play proactive role in its rapid development. The time has arrived to focus on the gaps and intervene wherever interventions are possible to make the potential agri-sector grow economically and socially to provide future generations peace of mind, sustainability of livelihood and harmony in life.

Adil Zareef teaches Public Health at Northwest School of Medicine and is founding member of Sarhad Conservation Network. He can be reached at

Fazal Maula Zahid is an agricultural scientist belonging to Swat.

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 10th, 2018