The power of experimentation: Stories from our portfolio

June 15, 2023
Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan

Here is part two of our three-part series on our journey in the implementation of the social innovation platform in the Hushe Valley. In this second part, we will delve deeper into the stories and narratives collected during the portfolio experimentation. Read part 1 & part 3.

The Hushe portfolio consists of interventions that were co-designed by local people and reflected the most urgent needs in the community, aimed at transforming the local food system by nudging impact in five interconnected levels, namely i) community initiatives, ii) small medium scale actions, iii) large scale actions, iv) public service redesign, and v) regulatory opportunities. 


The portfolio of solutions, ALC


The potential opportunities for transformation were primarily identified within the food system. As an economy based on agriculture, and aspiring to focus on sustainable tourism, the co-creation process with local agents gave rise to the possibility of experimentation of five interconnected initiatives, supported by UNDP Pakistan: tunnel farming, apricot products, women’s handicrafts, herbal tea production, and E-commerce training.

Tunnel farming 

Agriculture and horticulture are prime to Hushe’s communities. This was evident in narratives harvested in the Deep Listening. However, the harsh winter months make it impossible to grow crops from the end of October until mid-April, causing a shutdown of activities in the valley. In response, local stakeholders came together to co-create a solution using the SIP approach for Tunnel Farming.

Tunnel Farming allows for the growth of non-seasonal plants and crops in a controlled environment. In November 2021, eight farming tunnels were installed in four villages in the Hushe Valley: Saling, Khaney, Khanday, and Hushe. The custodian families sourced several non-seasonal vegetable seeds, such as spinach, cauliflower, and coriander, which were planted in the tunnels.


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


Asma, a woman farmer from Khanday, reflected, “The most interesting change this intervention brought to me is that as Khanday is a small village where people don’t have much land, in winter we don’t have anything to do. Now I am busy looking after tunnel vegetables”. She added, “It also helps address the challenge of malnutrition because in winter, we don’t have fresh vegetables. I think if there are tunnels in every village, people can also earn money which will also help to eradicate poverty and unemployment.” 

In the spring of 2022, the farming yields delighted the local farmers as their hard work paid off. Additionally, during the continuous listening process, more insights were gathered that shed light on how to scale up this initiative to have a more profound impact on local communities. Reflections revealed two major challenges and gaps that need to be addressed.


Photo: Gilgit Baltistan Foundation


Firstly, there is a lack of a widespread irrigation system. While an infrastructure project supported by the Economic Transformation Institute is building channels to bring water to the fields, sourcing water to the farmland remains a challenge until the project is fully completed and operational. This adds to the burden on women as they are typically responsible for bringing water to the household, especially during the winter.

Aisha, a woman farmer from Saling village, shared her experience of water scarcity, “Water is a problem faced by every one of us. Due to the lack of water, we have to spend most of our time fetching water and irrigating the farms. Every week, families have to go for irrigation. Moreover, the water channels are in such poor condition that most water goes to waste and does not reach its destination. Similarly, we don’t have water storage capacity so, in summer when the weather is hot and glaciers melt, most of the water goes to the river. Furthermore, some people don’t have access to drinking water at all. They have to fetch water from other houses and streets. There was a time when I didn't have drinking water at home for two days.” 


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


Secondly, a robust market linkage is required to connect the agricultural products from the valley with the wider market. Due to the poor infrastructure and harsh climate, the valley is isolated in many aspects. Strong access to external markets, whether domestic or international, could substantially transform the food value chain.

Apricot products

The Hushe Valley enjoys a bloom of apricot orchards. Among the eight villages, Machulo is the kingdom of apricots. The soil and weather allow for a variety of apricots to grow. They are gold for local people, including the leaves, the fruit, and the kernels. 

Ali, a local farmer from Machulo, said, “Our apricots are a very valuable fruit, but 90 percent of the fruit is wasted. We just extract the seed to make oil and the rest we throw away. Other fruits with high market potential, such as pears and cherries, are not commercially exploited as they could be.”

This is due to the lack of capacity in the valley to collect and transport the fruit to other regions swiftly as the fruit expires quickly. That is why for years, local people would process the fruit into dried apricots and extract oil from its kernel. 

Many people we talked to mentioned that several value-added products can be developed from apricot fruits and seed grains. However, processing and adding value to agricultural products is very limited in the Hushe Valley and almost all fruits and vegetables are sold fresh. The only exception is with apricot fruits, where some processing occurs through the extraction of the seeds for oil, which has always been done manually.


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


To address this issue, an oil extraction machine was provided to the local communities, but due to energy instability, the machine is hardly used. However, the farmers' cooperative has partnered with the Basque chefs from IMAGO to explore new avenues for apricot products. Five thousand bottles of apricot oil been purchased by the Michelin-Star Basque chefs, opening the door for apricot products made by Hushe communities to international markets. This is a significant step towards increasing the production of apricot oil and promoting the valley's agricultural products to the world. The challenge now is to increase production with more oil extraction equipment, better storage, and packaging to meet the growing demand from external markets.


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


Azban, the skilled apricot oil maker from Machulo, explained, “All of us have apricot trees and if we dry the apricots properly, we can make jam or process them into snacks. Also, if we get a proper market for our products, then all of us can benefit from it. When it comes to processing apricots, we are facing some challenges. Sometimes the rain spoils the apricots, and we don’t have a storage system to save them from irregular weather conditions. Moreover, we are not able to make jam or other products from these apricots because we don’t know the techniques and don’t have any machines. Once we have this capacity, we can earn more money even in a limited time.

Herbal tea production

In addition to apricots, herbs are another valuable resource in Hushe with great economic potential. Herbs grow abundantly in and around the valley and have been used by locals for health, medicinal purposes, and as ingredients in cooking and teas. Due to limited access to proper health care and treatments, the community relies on these herbs as remedies for various ailments such as motion sickness, digestive problems, asthma, and superficial wounds. Women in the villages collect these wild plants while collecting wood and fodder for heating purposes, selling them to hakims with a low-profit margin due to a limited market. 


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


To materialize the market potential of these herbal plants, a bacteriological analysis from the Department of Agriculture at the University of Karachi was done, to guarantee the health benefits that could be mentioned on its packaging. 

This intervention was co-designed by local stakeholders with the aim of assisting the local community in producing herbs into tea products. To ensure consistent quality and standardisation of the tea products, eleven women farmers were trained in the processes of herb collection, sorting, and processing. The six types of herbal teas identified included Tomboro, Tarkhan, Shamdon, Makhoting, Naqpo shotu, and Badian. 


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


Aqidah, a woman farmer from the Khaney village, was excited about this intervention: “I got involved because we are facing many challenges in terms of employment. We don’t have any source of income, especially for women. It’s good that I can earn money by selling these medicinal herbs in the format of tea.”

In addition to the excitement about the economic potential of this solution, other women farmers also shared how it changed their views regarding the importance of these herbs. Aqidah added: “We come to know the importance of these high-altitude herbs. More importantly, we developed this business idea to market these herbs as herbal tea.”

Women’s handicrafts

In Hushe, women are not only the primary caretaker of housework but are also enthusiastic entrepreneurial innovators. They are skilled at making handicrafts and creating products, including shawls, hats, sweaters, and tapestries, with a strong motivation to expand their knowledge and improve their techniques in producing as well aesthetics.


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan


Gender disparities remain a major challenge for women and girls in the Hushe Valley, affecting their access to education and employment opportunities. While education is seen as a crucial mechanism for improving their lives, the experiences of education and training can be frustrating, particularly for girls and women. To address economic inequalities, the Hushe Valley Women Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society was established to empower women both socially and economically. The cooperative provides training in financing and embroidery and currently has 52 registered women who are primarily focused on handcraft production. 

Despite their skills and motivation, these women face multiple challenges in scaling up and more importantly, sustaining their entrepreneurial ventures. Identified barriers during the Deep Listening included lack of initial investment, lack of formal training, absence of market linkage, and lack of sustainable business model and management. 

The women have created a  brand, "Made in Hushe" and aspire to become an example for other women in the valley and the region. However, their attempts to attract donors and investors have been met with challenges. Although they were contacted by Ternua, a Spanish sportswear brand, to produce 1200 caps, the partnership did not materialise due to lack of wool availability and initial capital needed to purchase necessary tools and materials.


Photo: Shahzad Ahmad/UNDP Pakistan
E-commerce training

Across all the interventions, one common challenge that emerged was the lack of a solid market linkage that could enable the local Hushe products to reach national and international markets. In collaboration with the Youth Empowerment Program at UNDP Pakistan, digital skills and freelancing skills training were incorporated into the portfolio to address this challenge. The first round of the training was open to all individuals in the Hushe Valley. In which approximately 100 applications were received, and 50 participants were shortlisted to attend the training. In the second round, to encourage greater participation by women, hence, a dedicated women cohort   training session was organised in partnership with the Women Cooperative Society where 30 women participated.

Ahmed, a 26-year-old participant in the e-commerce training, observed, “This three-week session was amazing. We learned new things. However, due to the short time span, it was difficult to master the techniques required for e-commerce fully. It would be great to have more training and practice. But it gave us many ideas about running online businesses.”


Authored by:

Javeria Masood, OIC Head of Innovation AccLab-UNDP Pakistan

Fernanda de Barros Pezzatto, SIP Hushe Valley Coordinator- Agirre Lehendakaria Center