For as long as he could remember Haji Asmatullah had led a simple life with just enough earnings to support his family in his remote village of Zangikhel, in district Lakki Marwat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Some 9000 residents — at least half of them residing in mud houses — made up the entire population of the small village. Unsustainable land management practices had left almost thirty-five per cent of the arable land barren — mainly as a consequence of waterlogging, salinity and desertification. Water shortage in the village meant that agriculture depended heavily upon seasonal rains. Most locals thus had to rely on manual labour to make ends meet.
Village life was the only life Haji Asmatullah had ever known. Having also spent the better part of his life labouring to provide for his family, he now felt he needed to establish a means of sustenance which would not put an excessive burden on his health at his old age. He enjoyed planting seeds in his spare time, and thus, he turned towards the relatively unpredictable trade of selling plants in a nursery to earn a livelihood for his family.
Starting this new small-scale business, Haji Asmatullah expected to sell off his plants at a profit which would enable him to cover some of his household expenses. What he had not preconceived, however, was the effect lack of funds and professional expertise may have on the growth of different plant varieties. Shortly after that, he began to incur losses, and his business came to the brink of closing down.
In 2016, with support from the United Nations Development Programme’s Sustainable Land Management Programme to Combat Desertification in Pakistan (SLMP-II) supported by the Government of Pakistan and the Global Environment Facility, Haji Asmatullah was able to revive his business. His work began to thrive, and he was able to add forty-thousand different varieties of plants to his nursery.
In the last few months, he had already sold fifteen-thousand plant varieties and seemed confident to be able to sell the rest of the stock by the end of the season. He expected another fifty-thousand plants to be ready to be sold by the time the previous stock ended. More recently, he has had visitors come in from as far as five miles to buy plants from his nursery.
Haji Asmatullah’s nursery is now famous across the locality for selling some of the best-selling varieties including; Kikar (Acacia nilotica) and Dalbergia sissoo, known commonly as North Indian Rosewood or Shisham.
“My life has changed completely! By next year I hope to expand this business even further” said Haji Asmatullah happily. “The support provided by the Sustainable Land Management Programme to Combat Desertification in Pakistan has turned our area green. We hope this project will also contribute towards afforestation in the area so that we can enjoy the better climate.”