Journey towards a food secure Balochistan.
Nowadays the situation with regard to food insecurity and malnutrition at district, tehsil and union council level in Balochistan has been extensively mapped and analysed, including the causes of malnutrition, food intake, dietary imbalances and vitamin and micro nutrient deficiencies. In addition, the number of women and children, who are most affected by food insecurity, are well documented. This extensively gathered information tells us that in Balochistan one out of two children appears to be affected by insufficient and unbalanced food in the first two years that results in stunted growth. It should go without saying that the calculated economic costs of malnutrition and stunted children are many times higher than the costs of effectively solving the issue.
During the last two years, I have attended quite a few workshops on food insecurity and malnutrition, organised by all those who keep good intentions for Balochistan and its people: The UN agencies, including Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), NGOs and of course the government of Balochistan. As I said, at these events everyone has great suggestions and ideas to give but sometimes I feel that we miss the sense of urgency and that time is running out.
One of my observations is that stakeholders engaged in ensuring food security, often successfully implement the so-called 'pilot' projects at a small scale and during a short span of time, conduct workshops and seminars on the results. For example, in a couple of villages we successfully supply fortified wheat or rice, we supply food supplements for children, establish a couple of vegetable kitchen gardens or we implement food for work and cash transfer programmes.
There is a saying: 'pilots never fail and never scale' and maybe this is also the case in Balochistan, thus hindering effective eradication of food insecurity and malnutrition. Successful models and solutions have been developed and implemented at a small scale, but unfortunately solutions were not implemented throughout the province; either due to the remoteness of villages, security problems, lack of funds or due to conflicting development priorities.
Although a pilot provides a model for future development, at a provincial level the results of these pilot projects are insignificant, especially if they are not scaled up and if results are not sustained beyond the so-called 'pilots'. This is mainly because a pilot has innovative aspects that need further testing before the model can be disseminated and rolled out at a wider scale.
The results of a pilot should guide us how to upscale the model at a wider scale. In short, the results of a pilot project have to be rolled out throughout the province to achieve significant impact. This implies that any pilot project should have a built-in 'action-plan or a road map' for scaling up the lessons learnt from the pilot interventions.
For the last couple of years, FAO of the United Nations, together with the Department of Agriculture and Cooperatives of the Government of Balochistan, has piloted with Integrated homestead gardens (also named Kitchen Gardens) at a small scale. A typical homestead garden in Balochistan is managed by a group of women from the same village and comprises a range of fruits/vegetables that are produced during at least nine months in a year, (drinking) water facilities, some goats and poultry. Most of the produce of a kitchen garden is consumed by the women, children and their families themselves or (barter) traded for other products within the village. If there is any surplus production it can be sold at the local market.
Realising that what works is an integrated approach, FAO joined hands with the Balochistan Nutrition Programme for Mothers and Children (BNPMC, P and D), civil society organisations and the line departments to deliver their combined messages on nutrition in villages. This integrated approach is expected to effectively change food habits of the population and improve the nutritional status, because recommendations on fruits, vegetables and milk intake are combined with the means and tools to produce these products themselves.
So, after completing the establishment of 20 'pilot' Kitchen Gardens this year in Kharan and Nushki districts, nutrition messages for behavioural change will be tested with women at a small scale. Once successful, another 500 Kitchen Gardens in both districts in 2018 and 2019 will be grown. Four more districts, Kech, Panjgur, Chaghi and Washuk, will have 250 Kitchen Gardens in each of them after 2019. In the years to come, the target is all 31 districts in Balochistan which can only be achieved by continuous combined efforts.
Nearly two months after the World Food day 2017 where the government, the private sector and civil society in the country renewed their commitment to ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030, our joint focus should remain on the concerted implementation of recommendations on how to improve the nutritional status and food security of the people in Balochistan. It is important to remember that if no effective action is taken throughout Balochistan, we should expect huge economic losses in the years ahead.