Cross learning within the HKH: women restore barren land in Passu Valley with sea buckthorn

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Fifty women from Passu valley in Pakistan have been tending to a community sea buckthorn plantation along what used to be an eroded riverbank, an hour’s walk from their village. The bushes were planted in April 2017 and will take another three years to fruit, but in less than a year, the barren patch of unstable land has become a stable, green oasis. By successfully managing sea buckthorn as an anti-erosion, bioengineering measure, the women have played an instrumental role in restoring a part of the valley and improving the well-being of their community.

Process

The Passu valley was once bountiful. The Khunjerab and Shimshal rivers gradually eroded their banks, posing a very real threat to homesteads and agriculture/livestock-dependent livelihoods. To all locally active development partners, including government entities, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it was clear that erosion had to be curbed if any development activity was to be effective. Drawing on cross learning from effective river training efforts along the Yellow River in China, ICIMOD identified sea buckthorn plantation as a locally appropriate bioengineering measure, with the ability to withstand rough conditions and the potential to deliver multiple benefits.

Outcomes and impact 

The women of Passau eagerly joined forces with development partners to test an approach that was both innovative and employed a plant that was already locally recognized for its anti-erosion characteristics. In the upper Indus belt, sea buckthorn is valued for its land stabilizing properties and as an important source of fuelwood. The shrubs are valuable to locals also for the seeds they produce – sea buckthorn seeds have medicinal value. However, these shrubs had never before been cultivated as a line of defense against the elements.

Following interest from the Passu Development Organization’s (PDO) Women Organization to restore the barren land around their village, ICIMOD and WWF provided a small grant to plant and water 5,000 saplings along an eroded stretch of land. The women have demonstrated exemplary capability in handling finances, engaging in rigorous labour, managing the funds to purchase and transplant saplings, making provisions for irrigation, and carrying water up embankments to water the bushes. 

“Sea buckthorn has breathed life back into our valley. In the long term, these bushes control erosion, stabilize and convert barren areas into cultivable land. Until that happens, the bushes provide us fuelwood that we can use or sell. The sea buckthorn seeds have medicinal properties and fetch a good price.” 
Tahira Begum. President of the Women’s Organization, Passu

Objective:

ICIMOD and WWF Pakistan are backstopping this effort through the Agricultural Water, Energy and Hazard Management for Improved Livelihood in the Upper Indus Basin Area of Pakistan project in the Upper Indus Basin region of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. It is being implemented as a hazard management activity to overcome river bank erosion through bioengineering in vulnerable areas. 

Through PDO, men and women work together for community welfare, generating income through orchard management and handicraft production, and reinvesting the earnings into education, health, and social welfare. The community sea buckthorn plantation effort of 2017 revived an initial plantation effort tested during Phase 1 of the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP), through the Forest Department of Gilgit-Baltistan. The initial effort, however, did not engage any women.