Firm inspires female farmers at Expo 2020 Dubai

Gulf Today

Mariecar Jara-Puyod, Senior Reporter

Women farmers—those who toil by tilling vast lands and engage in other agricultural activities around the world—aside from attending to the daily needs of their families, friends and even strangers—should neither be neglected nor abused.

Timely as March is “Women’s Month” and blunt as it is even if progress has been made in some quarters with regards gender equality and equity, this was the message from three women and one gentleman in agriculture in Pakistan by way of the “Fatima Fertilizer Scaling Pakistan’s Agricultural Potential through Empowerment of Female Farmers” from the Pakistan Pavilion in the Opportunity District of the Expo2020 Dubai on Monday. The three women “progressive farmers” who basically represent all women in agriculture around the world were Rabia Sultan, Nazo Dharejo and Azra Mehmood Sheikh.

Sultan from Punjab Province grew up being the constant companion of her father visiting their landholdings. Her father laughed off her idea of becoming a farmer and completing her university studies on that direction. She branded her own story as that of “passion.”

Nazo Dharejo has been considered by her fellow 1,000 villagers in Sindh Province as the person to go to. She has become one of the owners of huge agricultural and dairy lands. Her willpower and courage to fight off even relatives with regards property inheritance had inspired the 2017 British-Pakistani drama film “My Pure Land” and the 2020 debut short film on women empowerment “Nazo,” a project of Fatima Fertilizer under the “Sarsabz Kahani” digital media.

Dharejo who had transformed to become an activist and politician told Gulf Today that her determination to fight for her right over the landholdings was not only about the desire for the realization of her birth right. It was and is about nurturing those whose lives are dependent on these.

Interviewed, Azra Mehmopod Sheikh, the dairy farmer also from Punjab, who had shared at the discussions that women in agriculture must also be given opportunities to train and hone their managerial skills, said critical in their progress is education and research. It was through research and her continuous engagements with her fellow dairy farmers that led her to recently import cattle from the USA that would help boost the much-needed dietary requirements, particularly giving solutions to the lactose intolerance, among Pakistani children. The importation procedures took almost a year as she pursued it in March 2020.

Fatima Fertilizer National Marketing manager Rabel Sadozai said the event was to put on the spotlight the women in agriculture: “They are essential to the wheels of fortune in Pakistan.” Currently are 22 million women from the 38 per cent workforce and according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 19 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product is dependent on the industry.

Meanwhile, from the Global Citizen portal, a 2020 news feature placed Pakistani women farmers as the number one among five nationalities in the world who have played vital roles in the global agricultural sector in spite of being “underpaid.” They account for 74 per cent of the sector who generally work in the cotton fields exposing themselves to “heat stroke, snake bites, exposure to pesticides” and from these, there is a constant supply of cotton for clothing, linens, and industry products.”

The lone gentleman panellist who recognised the major role of women in the farming industry was Pakistan Kissan Ittehad president Khalid Khokar. From the sidelines, he said all support must be provided to women farmers, being on the same page with USA Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack, who had stated through the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate joint initiative with the UAE that “70 per cent of the world’s farmers are women…when we talk about innovation, we are talking about the need for us to be able to innovate on behalf of all farmers, everywhere around the world, large and small.”

The panel discussion was relevant as it was only last week when the World Expo became the site of at least two international agriculture-related events—the “Food, Agriculture and Livelihoods Business Forum” and the “Food for Future Summit” from Feb. 21 to 24—wherein government officials and private individuals tackled ways and means to ensure global food security amidst uncertainties, dwindling natural resources, ballooning and aging populations.

For instance, from the “Food for Future Summit,” former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon who currently co-chairs the Ban Ki-Moon Centre for Global Citizens said in his virtual participation: “Supporting smallholder farmers is needed more than ever to address the growing population, the increase in demand for food, and to make food systems sustainable and resilient. Currently, smallholders only receive 1.7 per cent of climate finance while global smallholder farmers need an estimated $240 billion (Dhs881,520,000,000.00) a year in finance support, they received $10 billion (Dhs36,730,000,000.00) In 2018, signaling the need for a ‘people first’ approach to food ecosystems and climate change.”

From the “Women in Agriculture in Pakistan” of the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organisation that researched and analysed women farmers in Azad Jammu, Kashmir, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab, the authors had suggested that the national government “design an integrative system to support women farmers in all related sectors namely financial services, land reforms, tenure system, inputs distribution, and market access. Moreover, “rural women’s work as unpaid labour (must) be counted in official statistics, recognised at the policy level and honour them as “women farmer” as the answer to social justice, necessary empowerment and poverty alleviation.

Fatima Fertilizer has organized a range of activities at the Pakistan Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai to promote awareness about Pakistan’s agriculture sector and its unique rural culture.

Meanwhile, the world is now hailing the vision and courage demonstrated by the leadership of Dubai and the UAE at this special time facing all the challenges and turning the challenges as blessings. About 3 to 5 percent of people visiting Expo 2020 is expected revisiting Dubai or planning to make Dubai their residence post the Expo.

In 1851 the Crystal Palace was the centrepiece of London’s Great Exhibition – the first World Expo. It celebrated the man-made industrial wonders of a rapidly changing world. Architecture, contents and a theme, ‘Industry of All Nations’, were combined to create a big idea of nations meeting nations in shared technological and commercial progress. In more recent years, participants in World Expos, including governments, international organisations and companies, have gathered to find solutions to universal challenges and to promote their achievements, products, ideas, innovations, their national brand, and their nations as destinations for tourism, trade and investment.

World Expos are held under the auspices of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the intergovernmental organisation responsible for overseeing and regulating international exhibitions (‘Expos’) and for fostering their core values of Education, Innovation and Cooperation. Today, four types of Expos are organised under the BIE’s auspices: World Expos, Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale di Milano.