Small Entrepreneurship Interventions: Protecting the Environment and Empowering Women
© WWF-Pakistan

Trees undoubtedly play a vital role in sustaining natural and human environments as they protect watersheds, provide habitats for wildlife and help stabilize otherwise fragile ecosystems. Besides providing an array of essential products for rural and urban consumers, they also play an economic role, with timber being the main source and pulpwood producing a significant amount of national income and foreign exchange in a number of countries. Trees on farmlands also supplement the farm economy without incurring a lot of expense and effort.  Not only that, trees readily provide fodder, fuel, small timber, shade, shelter and protection from hot and cold winds, improved environment and biodiversity. They also provide additional livelihood opportunities to the locals through the sale of wood in case of unforeseen contingencies i.e., low yield of crops.

WWF-Pakistan’s Climate Resilient Crop Production (CRCP) initiative is supporting rural women in Khanewal, Multan and Bahawalpur by providing them with seeds, tools, and equipment to run small tree nurseries aimed at improving their income. The initiative focuses on establishing nurseries with indigenous trees, which may grow slower than some of the exotic trees, but are far better for the overall agro-ecosystem.

Buying plants from commercial nurseries in nearby cities or elsewhere could have been an easy yet costly task due to the high commercial prices and transportation costs involved in delivering them to far-off rural communities. Consequently, the availability of high-quality tree planting material within close proximity of farmers at affordable prices was one of the prerequisites for the larger uptake of tree cultivation. This led the project team to come up with the idea of establishing small-scale rural nurseries run by women to produce a diversity of tree planting material for marginalized and underprivileged farming communities.

 “I had never been viewed as an income earner or a working woman; rather, I was thought to be a person who loves to look after her family, cook food, and take care of her livestock; which constituted my prime responsibilities,” says Abida, a 32-year-old woman from a village in Bahawalpur. “I am fortunate that I made the timely decision to participate in this activity. This initiative has made me considerably self-sufficient. To cite one example, I independently bought my sister a valuable gift for her wedding from the money I earned by selling the nurseries. Being a woman who can earn herself makes me exceptionally happy as I have achieved a lot and I am now financially independent.”

While women’s participation in agriculture production is quite high, they are primarily involved as workers and not as beneficiaries. Since they are not owners of the land of produce, they are only seen as collectors and the benefits are passed on to the patriarchal heads of the family. In this context, the idea of establishing women-run micro nurseries ensures that they become financially independent and have the autonomy to earn and spend their own income. 

WWF-Pakistan provides rural women entrepreneurs like Abida with polythene bags and indigenous tree seeds. It is a prerequisite for all nursery growers to plant and look after the seedlings for a period of three months before selling 75 per cent of the stock back to the project at a price of PKR 10 per sapling for further distribution amongst the rural communities. The remaining 25 per cent of the stock has to be planted by the nursery owner on her family farmland.

This small initiative is not only helping women gain financial independence by working smartly from home, but is also encouraging them to realize their potential and come forward to participate in conservation-related activities. 

Written by Asad Imran, Director Food and Markets, WWF-Pakistan

Wonder Woman of the South - Marium Pakko
Published on 30 November 2021
© WWF-Pakistan

Marium Pakko resides in a small village of Meero Dablo, Keti Bunder, where her daughter and husband are the centre of her world. For generations, their livelihoods were dependent on fishing, but things changed when Marium’s husband developed a chronic illness that stopped him from working and supporting his family. Marium, who used to help her husband with fishing, also found herself out of work. Rather than succumbing to a downward spiral of problems, Marium took hold of opportunities to become the sole breadwinner of her family, who earns her living through sewing, stitching and selling clothes. “We live in our own thatched house, which I have constructed after working day and night.” she intones pensively.

Despite the litany of problems and adversities that came their way, Marium and her family took bold steps towards a better future. In an effort to bring forth change through initiatives involving the local communities, WWF-Pakistan provides training and alternative livelihood opportunities to local women in the deltaic region, allowing them to augment their income generation capabilities and improve their standard of living. It is this very opportunity that enabled Marium to support her family and make a life for herself. 

“I am thankful to WWF-Pakistan for helping and supporting us by providing the womenfolk of the community with sewing machines and also training us on textile and handicraft manufacturing to make marketable products which give us an avenue to earn more. Not only that, we also acquired and honed entrepreneurial skills”.

Before Marium was given the sewing machine, she used to earn PKR 12,000 a month by manually harvesting razor clams, which is a physically arduous process. She would then sell them off to a middle-man, who in turn gave her money. This was a cumbersome process where her means of earning were limited and her potential was being wasted. Acting on her affinity for creativity, she began to sew and stitch clothes part-time to make ends meet. 

Explaining the travails of her life, she heaved a sigh and lamented that “Sewing and stitching was something I always wanted to do. Since I did not own a sewing machine, I used to sew clothes on my neighbour’s machine. Sometimes, I would stitch clothes by hand, which was both painful and laborious. It used to take a very long time to stitch the clothes and since I did not make any finished products, I got paid very little for my work.”

She further explained that “There was a time when I could barely manage my family's expenses and there used to be days when we could only afford one meal a day.” But, things did take a turn for the better. Today, she earns PKR 20,000 per month through sewing and stitching, almost double of what a man earns on average in her village. With an unflinching sparkle in her eye, she told us, "Our life has improved drastically and we have enough to sustain ourselves now. Through WWF-Pakistan, I have saved time and money and acquired skills and resources which have eased my financial stress and also improved my health overall.”

“I remember during tough times when I didn't earn enough, I used to go fishing, and as a woman, our community never encouraged me to do this but I immersed myself in it for my family.” 

The only other alternative was to cut mangroves and sell wood. WWF-Pakistan has done considerable work for the conservation of mangroves in the Indus Delta and is still working on the ubiquitous issues in the Delta and the coastal community. “Since we live near the coast of the Indus Delta, I recall people from WWF-Pakistan calling us the guardians of this coast. I always wondered why they called us that. Later on, we realized that we had a very precious resource that we had been exploiting for decades. We weren't aware of the advantages of mangroves. We are dependent on them, and if these resources vanish, human lives across the Indus Delta will also be ruined.”

“For ages, we have faced hundreds of challenges due to climate change. When we became aware about the benefits of mangroves and found out how they protect us and support a number of species in the Indus Delta, we helped conserve these forests and reduced our dependence on them.” This was made possible by WWF-Pakistan’s provision of nursery grounds for juvenile saplings, which has helped create awareness and increase the mangrove cover in the Delta. Mangroves are pivotal for the region as they are home to a multitude of birds, play a major role in carbon sequestration, and act as a barrier against a number of catastrophic effects that could be devastating to the environment and the people. “As guardians, we are now taking a number of initiatives to protect the mangroves as we know we are the ones who need them for our survival.”

Marium also mentioned how people living in rural areas with very limited facilities and basic amenities face an array of problems due to the lack of resources, dearth of livelihood opportunities, water shortages, poor road networks and poor infrastructure. These are the issues that need the utmost attention for the local communities and the inhabitants of the deltaic region to live a better life.

Co-authored by Hamera Aisha, Manager Conservation, WWF-Pakistan and Jawad Umer Khan, Coordinator Marine Programme, WWF-Pakistan.