The Persian word, Bam-i-Dunya, which means “roof of the world” is used to refer to the landscape of the Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir (HKPL), which spans parts of Afghanistan, China, from Pakistan and Tajikistan. The landscape has immense socio-economic, ecological and geostrategic importance.
However, mountain communities living in the HKPL are highly food and nutrition insecure. The main factors of food and nutritional insecurity are difficult climatic conditions, loss of agro-biodiversity, decline in agricultural productivity, high poverty, population growth, poor market connectivity, change in use. land, young people turning away from agriculture and emigration. In addition, there is little scientific research on agriculture and food systems to tackle these drivers of change.
Of all these challenges, climate change and the loss of agro-biodiversity have become the greatest threats to food and nutrition security in the region.
In the Afghan province of Badakhshan, more than half of the population suffers from food insecurity and protein deficiencies. Changing rainfall patterns have resulted in a substantial decline in agricultural and animal production, reducing the province’s income by nearly 33 percent.
In Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), one of the most food insecure areas in the country, climate change, including a change in rainfall and an increasing rate of snowmelt, has resulted in food insecurity, causing stunted growth and anemia. in children.
In Pakistan, parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral fall under the HKPL. Here, most of the population is food insecure due to the climate change-induced Flash Floods and Glacial Lake Floods (GLOFs) that have affected local agriculture, the stability of the food supply and the farm and non-farm income.
A gradual decline in the cultivation of traditional food crops, especially buckwheat, barley and millet, and the decline 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 climate and trade shocks and the resulting decline in dietary diversity has impacted the nutritional status of local communities.
Governments of HKPL member countries have taken policy measures to improve food and nutrition security. Pakistan, for example, has endorsed several policy initiatives, such as the National Zero Hunger Program 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 targeted projects to improve food security.
Afghanistan has also developed a Food Security and Nutrition Program and a Comprehensive National Agriculture Development Priorities Program (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) highlights Tajikistan’s commitment to strengthen nutrition and ensure food security.
Parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral fall under the HKPL. Most of the population here is food insecure due to climate change-induced flash floods and glacial lake floods that have affected local agriculture..
Despite all these policy measures, the mountainous areas of Bam-i-Dunya remain highly food insecure and poor. These mountainous areas still lag far behind in achieving sustainable agricultural production and food and nutritional security.
Mountain-specific policies based on local agro-ecological and climatic conditions are needed to address the problem of food and nutrition insecurity in Bam-i-Dunya. A coordinated approach is needed to develop appropriate solutions and policies and to allocate special resources for remote and high altitude areas. At the national level, this will require close involvement and coordination between government agencies, civil society, research organizations, universities, donors and the private sector.
Climate change and the loss of agricultural biodiversity are also cross-border threats to the sustainability of food systems. The key to achieving sustainable food and nutrition security at the landscape level is scaling up sustainable production and consumption practices.
Part of the solution to these problems is to promote holistic approaches, such as the food-energy-water ecosystem, which emphasizes the linkages and potential impacts of actions in one policy area on others. Relevant regional organizations with expertise in these sectors can help design interventions for high altitude areas.
A multidimensional approach is essential to respond to the complex challenges of food security in high mountains. One of the ways to dramatically improve food and nutrition security is to improve forage production to meet feed needs for livestock in high altitude areas. This can be done by building demonstration farms to test the effectiveness of new varieties of forage plants as well as new crops and vegetables. Providing clean energy, storage facilities and food processing technologies can improve productivity and help reduce the burden on women.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, where yak farming is practiced, the current herd per household does not exceed 10 yaks, due to the limited productivity of the pastures. Planting higher yielding highland fodder can encourage mountain communities to promote yak farming. It will also help in the production of yak wool.
The promotion of ecotourism, cultural tourism and handicrafts can all help to expand the basket of livelihood options for mountain communities. The mountain microclimate, geographic isolation, reduced disease and pests provide a favorable habitat to develop organic and high-value products through HKPL. This can help meet the demands of downstream communities and even cross-border markets.
The semi-arid climate, glacial mountains and snow-capped deserts, grasslands, forests, livestock, and farming systems of Gansu Province of China are similar to those of northern Pakistan and Tajikistan. Gansu Province has developed advanced mountain agricultural technology and is able to produce sufficient amounts of crops, 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, CPEC can help improve food and nutrition security along the corridor and provide opportunities to harness the biological potential, ecotourism and valuable medicinal products that the region provides. This is possible through a better understanding of ecosystem health and landscape climatic conditions, a greater exchange of good practices and knowledge related to mountain agriculture, targeted policy interventions and support at the national level and a greater regional cooperation.
Ghulam Ali is the program coordinator of the HKPL Initiative at ICIMOD. Syed Muhammad Abubakar is a KMC officer at ICIMOD