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Sign of progress? When cities feed whole villages

Published: March 2, 2013

Pakistan’s rapid urbanisation comes at cost of agriculture production. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD

KARACHI: In a cramped two bedroom house in Dalmia, Karachi, Asadullah Sheikh lives with his 5 children, mother and wife. This is his sixth year in Karachi. Previously, Shaikh was a smallholder farmer and owned 11 acres of land in Sajawal.The artificial price hike of agricultural lands between 2005 and 2007 tempted Shaikh – like many other farmers- to move to the city. He sold his land, got enough money to buy a motor cycle, paid his debts, set up a small kiryana store and made Karachi his home. “My 11 acres are lying uncultivated,” he says with a tinge of remorse. Sheikh is one of those who form Pakistan’s growing urban population, making Pakistan a country with a very rapid urbanisation rate.

A 2008 report by UN Population Fund reported that the share of the urban population in Pakistan almost doubled from 17.4 per cent in 1951 to 32.5 per cent in 1998.

More than 60% of the population of urban Sindh lives in Karachi, which according to a “City Mayors 2011 survey” has become one of the largest cities in the world with a population of 15.5 million, with other estimates claiming it may be 18 million.

Karachi is just a case in point. Eight key cities in Pakistan are caving under the burden of high-density concentration of population. At the same time, it is becoming tougher for Pakistan’s farmers to continue to live in rural areas and survive on agriculture. According to Dr Vaqar Ahmed of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, a lot has to do with untargeted government subsidies for products consumed in urban areas such as wheat, sugarcane and rice. “What a farmer produces fetches a low price. But what a worker in an urban area produces fetches better returns. Moving to cities is an attractive option. The urban sprawl is very market driven.”

While city-dwellers complain about how cities are becoming crowded, the reasons for this urbanisation are hardly understood. Tariq Bucha, President of Pakistan Farmer’s Association, while talking to The Express Tribune, says that 85 to 87% farmers of Pakistan live below the subsistence level, which means they own less than 12 and a half acres. “Inheritance laws are an important factor here. Every time a person dies, his lands are divided into smaller shares among his children. Small pieces of land are economically unviable. In an absence of a marketing infrastructure and access for our farmers, the most attractive option for them is to sell the 3 to 4 acres they have, and move,” said Bucha.

In the 36th Governing Council of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), held in Rome in February, agency President Kanayo Nwanze reminded partners that a boom in agriculture can prompt twice more growth in an economy.

“The emergence of higher and more volatile food prices, combined with dramatic droughts, floods, and famines, have concentrated world attention on the question of how to feed a global population that is over 7 billion and growing. Today, agriculture is centre stage,” Nwanze said.

Urban food choices and migration – the missing link

In 2008, the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population for the first time. UN projections suggest that the world’s urban population will grow by more than a billion people between 2010 and 2025, while the rural population will hardly grow at. According to the research paper “Urbanisation and its implications for food and farming” (David Satterthwaite, Gordon McGranahan and Cecilia Tacoli), it is likely that the proportion of the global population not producing food will continue to grow, as will the number of middle and upper income consumers whose dietary choices are more energy- and greenhouse gas emission-intensive (and often more land-intensive) and where such changes in demand also bring major changes in agriculture and in the supply chain.

While urbanisation is seen as a sign of progress, this research says that with urbanization, there will be rising demands for meat, dairy products, vegetable oils and ‘luxury’ foods, and this implies more energy-intensive production and, for many nations, more imports. Also, dietary shifts towards more processed and pre-prepared foods, in part in response to long working hours and, for a proportion of the urban population, with reduced physical activity, affects the agricultural supply chain.

“This trans-shifting has effects on demand of crops. Who eats jawaar (millet) and baajra (sorghum) now? We are moving away from organic food to synthetics,” says Bajwa, commenting on how city dwellers’ food choices indirectly result in mass exodus from villages to cities.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2013.

Sonia Nazario – Not your average storyteller

TrustMedia Alumni Blog – Sonia Nazario – Not your average storyteller [Reporting on Women’s Issues, Nov. 2012, Barcelona]

By Farahnaz Zahidi | Wednesday at 4:47 PM

Participants gather around a table during the Reporting on Women's Issues course in Barcelona this November.Participants gather around a table during the Reporting on Women’s Issues course in Barcelona this November.

NewsXchange 2012, a gathering of journalists and executives from the media world, started with a hit by American singer Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Moments later, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Sonia Nazario is invited to take to the stage. Clarkson’s song could not have been more apt. It celebrates strength, resilience, falling down and getting up again. Nazario has done all of this – all for the love of journalism.

A writer with more than 20 years’ experience under her belt, her heart lies in social issues, many of which are complicated, tricky and risky – the lives of illegal migrants and drug addicts, among others. Her interest lies not in superficial collections of data with jargon punched in, but features and stories for which she has risked her life.

Nazario won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2003, after an earlier nomination for the same category in 1998. She won it for series called Enrique’s Journey, which became a book and a national bestseller that won two book awards and was published in 8 languages. That’s enough to make her special. But after listening to her talk, her audience knows there’s more to her than this list of achievements.

Nazario’s real achievement is the stories she has told, stories of ordinary people which became real to her readers. Stories of pain and resilience. Stories like that of Enrique, a boy from Honduras who makes a perilous journey in search of his mother in the United States.

Nazario’s beginning, or childhood, was tumultuous in some ways. As she told those of us in the audience: “I learnt early on in life that journalism does matter.”

She was born in Wisconsin to Argentinean immigrants, which is why a part of her always related to immigrants. She grew up in the U.S. and Argentina. At 13, she knew fear. Fear made sure that she walked to school in pairs. Fear – a by-product of her seeing blood on the streets, and knowing that journalists could be killed for telling the truth.

In her words, “a certain kind of journalism matters. Stories that show complexity and a certain shade of grey.”

“Migration is in my blood. I understand what it’s like to have a foot in two worlds,” Nazario said.

In documenting Enrique’s story, Nazario documents how migrants suffer. Poverty forced Enrique’s mother Lourdes to leave Honduras, leaving behind her children including 5-year-old Enrique, whose quest to find an answer to the question “¿Donde esta mi mami?”  (Where is my mum?) is what the story of is all about.

“I look for stories that move me,” Nazario said. “If they move me, maybe they’ll move you.”

In order to truly capture Enrique’s story, Nazario went through some very perilous situations, travelling on top of a train like one of an estimated 48,000 children who enter the United States from Central America and Mexico each year. Illegally. Without parents. On these journeys, Nazario says she experienced “moments of cruelty and kindness”.

She wants to make her readers feel they are on top of that train to the U.S. with Enrique.

Nazario is still in touch with Enrique and his mother. Follow-up journalism is a dying art.

One writer’s story, written with a heart, helped humanize the faceless and nameless migrants in the US. They became more than numbers and data.

In an age where successful journalism has begun to be gauged by the number of blogs churned out daily or weekly, Nazario continues to set an example for journalists who want to tell stories, move hearts and make a difference through this powerful tool. “Doing this kind of story telling is important,” she said. “Don’t we have an obligation to tell people what’s what?”

I am every woman

11th November 2012. It is the first day of the Thomson Reuters journalism training course for which I have flown to Barcelona, Spain. New continent. New world. New people. 16 hours – the time my journey from Karachi to Barcelona took. 16 hours ago was the Karachi, the Pakistan I am from. Never a dull moment in my country. Especially in the newsroom. Even more so in my life. I am surrounded by 10 other energetic, excited and interesting participants. Each a unique story. But the shoddy parts of Karachi, the humidity of that city I call home, and its problems and joys never leave me, even when I walk down beautiful pebbled streets of the picturesque Barcelona which is almost utopic in its serenity.

My facilitator and trainer is the amazing Mariane Pearl. The first exercise she gives us to write two paragraphs about what it means to me to write about women’s issues and what are my brief impressions after a chat with any two colleagues. Below are those two paragraphs.

I confess I have not grown up in circumstances of deprivation, gender bias or inequality. My father had his roots in rural Pakistan but I grew up as a young urban Pakistani in a very sheltered home, yet given enough independence to be able to spread my wings. I had no idea for the longest time that women in my country and in this world go through the atrocities that I covered as a journalist. Naivety broke with journalism coming into my life and my first feature I wrote about the plight of women inmates in the Karachi Central Jail. That’s when it hit me that women’s lives are complex, interesting and often the greatest stories. All I know is that I am a people-centred person – I love people. I want to know them, relate to them, empathize with them. My struggle remains whether I should be a journalist or a writer. I hope to be both. Because today as I sit down as one of 11 participants whom Reuters has graciously invited to Barcelona to teach us more about how to report women’s issues, my excitement is about stories! Our first exercise involved me sitting with Saraswati Sundas from Bhutan and Alexis Angulo from Mexico – both vibrant young journalists. I cannot wait to talk more with them. Blog about what all we shared. Our commonalities and our differences that make this world so beautiful. Alexis is breaking my bubble when I state defiantly that Pakistan is THE most dangerous place in the world for journalists. That doesn’t seem like that big a deal when he tells me that Mexico is second on the list. He is a proponent of legalizing drugs in Mexico. He explains why. Mexico has lost a hundred thousand people to drug wars in the last six years. Saraswati is talking about her modern urban friend who was not allowed to visit her parent’s home even when a death in the family happened by her UK-educated husband who beats her up. Human differences and commonalities! We bond. We relate.

I have recognized my trainer. It is Mariane Pearl. Wife of Daniel Pearl. Pakistan is where Daniel lost his life in the line of journalistic duty. Pakistan is where Mariane fought many battles. She knows Pakistan, I am thinking. She knows what it is like to report in a conflict zone….in a society polarized, yet with so much good coming out of its people, especially women. My experiences of life have taught me that women need a voice. I am neither anti-men nor a radical feminist. I am a woman and proud to be one. But any vulnerable group needs to have its voice heard. When a woman is beaten or denied her right of inheritance or when she doesn’t have the empowerment to earn or save her earnings, or when she isn’t given the chance to decide which form of contraception to use or at which age should she marry, someone needs to speak up for her or teach her to that for herself. I am her voice. And I am mine.