The Afghan refugees turning barren soil into fertile land in Balochistan

·3-min read

This article first appeared in our partner site, Independent Urdu

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are around 300,000 people displaced in refugee camps in the southwestern region of Balochistan in Pakistan. They face many challenges, chief among them unemployment.

However, refugees living in the Surkhab refugee camp in the Pishin district of Balochistan are securing their livelihoods through cultivating once barren land. Among these refugees is Baloch Khan, who farms a variety of crops.

Speaking to Independent Urdu, Baloch Khan says he came from Afghanistan’s Arghistan region. He fled to Pakistan as a refugee when Russian troops invaded.

“When we arrived, it was completely desolate so we started work on making the land suitable for cultivation,” he relates.

Baloch Khan says he has been living in Pakistan for almost two decades.

“We have put a lot of effort into cultivating the land. We worked with shovels and picks to level the ground.

“We work on one area each year and make the land ready for cultivation. We then move on to another patch of ground. This is how we made this area cultivable. We are now able to grow vegetables and seasonal produce here to support ourselves and our children.

“At the beginning of the year, we grow tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. We begin the harvest in the middle of March and send the produce to market by June. We then look to grow seasonal vegetables”, relates Baloch Khan. “Seasonal vegetables include mint, salad, and spring onions. We irrigate our crops with fresh water, which means our vegetables sell at a higher price than others’.”

“Our vegetables sell for 20-25 rupees more per 5kg compared to other producers. The area is known for these crops. When they are sold, they are marked as having been grown in Surkhab.”

According to Baloch Khan, there are 150 households in the area. Some work on their own land, others are employed as agricultural workers. He says he grows 8 to 15 varieties of vegetable. However, the market is very volatile and prices fluctuate.

“We grow lots of varieties of vegetables to balance the risk. This way the profit we get on crops that sell well mitigates the loss we make on others.”

Baloch Khan says despite only having a small plot of land, he has diversified the crops he grows. He is able to sell some at a good price in the market.

He added that some people here irrigate five acres of land using a tube well, however their approach is not always profitable.

Meanwhile, the Head of UNHCR’s Sub-Office in Quetta, Erwin Policar, detailed in a recent briefing that 20,000 children were receiving education in 35 schools run by the organisation across ten refugee camps in Balochistan.

He confirmed that there were more than 300,000 refugees estimated to be living in Balochistan. The 20th of June is World Refugee Day. This year the theme is “Whoever, Whatever, Whenever”.

From 2014 to 2021, UNHCR has trained around 4,000 Afghan refugees in key skills, Erwin Policar highlighted. He added that since 2009, UNHCR has implemented 4,260 projects worth 220 million dollars under the Refugee-Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme. This programme helped 12.4 million people; some 15% were Afghan refugees.

Reviewed by Tooba Ali and Celine Assaf

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