Breaking new ground in Gilgit-Baltistan
Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey
Traditional agriculture is a major contributor to the local economy of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), which is at risk due to climate change. Irrigation canals dependent on glacial meltwater are now becoming obsolete because of receding glaciers. Furthermore, the subsistence-based farming system in GB under-utilizes resources, leading to lower land productivity. Of the total 72,971 km² land area, only 2% is cultivable, and only 50% of this is under cultivation. Moreover, water shortages have led to livelihood and food insecurity at the community level. Apart from the government prioritizing the rehabilitation of canals, there has been no intervention that targets the utilization of land for agriculture. The potential for farming on arable land along river banks is restricted because of limited water access. ICIMOD through its consortium of local partners has led pilot interventions in GB to address some of these challenges by introducing technologies like the zero-energy hydro-ram pump. This has improved local practices in water utilization and promoted an efficient approach to farming practices using locally relevant solutions.
Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved
To understand the changes required in farming practices in GB and bring about positive, tangible changes on the ground, we partnered with organizations that specialize in the local context. We worked with a collective of NGOs and CBOs to assess community needs through consultation meetings with farmers. Our interactions also allowed coordination with women’s self-help groups, which were encouraged in the management of some pilot sites. Such a group took responsibility for overseeing one pilot site, which is not a tradition in GB. Then, we introduced the planned interventions as a package of solutions for three different sites as mentioned below: 1. River water lifted for irrigation through solar or zero-energy hydro-ram pumps 2. Elevated water tanks for storage of pumped water 3. Drip irrigation combined with mulch for use in fruit orchards as well as alley-vegetable cropping in the farmland. We also conducted baseline and end assessments to assess change. We held annual policy-level roundtable discussions with parliamentarians, federal and provincial decision-makers, and the private sector to share our achievements. This increased their interest in investing in scaling up of the pilot across GB.
How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?
Scientific assessments suggest that mountain regions like GB could warm by 5°C by the end of the century. The area is already witnessing the impacts of climate change through accelerated glacial retreat, which is reducing water availability for drinking and agriculture purposes. The project focused on the resilience of local communities by introducing locally relevant solutions. The demonstrated package is a blend of natural (mulching, apples, and vegetable cultivation) and technical components (drip irrigation, solar, and hydraulic ram pumps). These interventions factor in issues like limited water availability. For example, the hydro-ram pump is able to run with no external energy source. Parts of the pump can be sourced locally and local self-help groups have set up funds for annual maintenance and repair of the hydro-ram pump. In addition, drip irrigation systems not only ensure efficient water use but also help instil a sense of efficient resource utilization within the community.
What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?
Our focus had always been on influencing fundamental practices around water use and agriculture, but we also understood the value of community engagement to make this a reality. We recognized the need to engage women’s self-help groups as they represent the most vulnerable. We worked with a group of 170 women farmers to understand and equip them with decision-making skills. We shared the importance of planning, implementation, and management with women in the community, and they assumed the decision-making role on what to cultivate and sell. Given the limited availability of arable land, we supported the practice of collective farming. This further prompted community buy-in where others took note of the skills that the women’s group was utilizing. The community as a whole discussed the need to allocate ownership of the pilot site under the women’s group. This transfer of rights, which is not common in the GB context, led to the area being given the moniker “mothers and sisters village”.
What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?
Arid mountainous terrain, heavy winter snowfall, and limited resources have always been a part of the context, and we have also faced other challenges in the implementation of field activities. Here are a few specific issues: a. Higher siltation and sedimentation clogged the solar pumping units and drippers, and the crop was damaged by wildlife. We addressed this by introducing multiple layers of filters attached to the pump and fencing the site with barbed wire. b. It took relatively a longer time to yield crops from our horticultural plants. To ensure short-term yield, we introduced cultivation of vegetables alongside apples. c. We had to balance expectations of communities on larger infrastructure development where they believed that our interventions could also contribute. Regular interactions helped communicate better with farmers on our overall objectives and helped them in understanding the need for enhancing their capacity in technology transfer. d. It is difficult to bring policy change that is specific to a mountain context. There is a need to involve and educate policy and decision makers on mountain-specific interventions. Dialogues and roundtable discussions held locally help in this regard.
In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?
We established a strong connection among local, provincial, and federal government authorities, the private sector, (I)NGOs, and communities for the transfer of knowledge and technological package. We strove to create an enabling environment for the continuity of the initiative through policy dialogues, capacity-building events, and knowledge dissemination events. Organizations like WWF, UNDP, The Asia Foundation, and The Hashoo Foundation have now outscaled the piloted interventions in other GB districts and brought 125 acres of arable land under irrigation. The federal government has approved a USD 1.5 million project for the upscaling of the piloted intervention package to utilize 3,000 acres of abandoned arable land. Thus, increasing acceptance, interest, and change in mind-set of stakeholders towards this innovation has helped the adoption and sustainability of the piloted intervention package.
What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?
We tried our best to adapt our intervention to the local context while factoring in larger forces of climate and societal change. A few specific lessons in this process are listed below: 1. Working with relevant organizations through a consortium model from the planning and implementation process can be helpful for the intervention’s sustainability and upscaling; 2. Working with private sector organizations help bring in new and innovative technological solutions and technology transfer for potential outscaling; 3. Working with local communities for risk scoping and generation and dissemination of information is crucial for attaining successful results; 4. Establishing local enterprises that can install and troubleshoot these technologies would ensure longer sustainability and upscaling of the piloted technologies; 5. Technology should be customized to the local conditions. For instance, the solar pump would not work in a heavily silt-laden mountain stream and would need technological improvements to operate.