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January 14, 2019

Growing plants high up in the mountains


January 14, 2019

Islamabad : Saira Ilyas, never expected that the small nursery she started on her own with only a few plants would one day occupy, 80 kanals with almost 300 thousand saplings and around 40 employees.

Her nursery is a success story that many women in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and other parts of the country would like to replicate. Many in AJK initiated their home nurseries after seeking inspiration from Saira.

The nursery is near Hajira, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), and the Battal sector from where mountains occupied by Indian forces are visible. The scenic, serene environment has many sad stories to tell. Battal sector has previously come under fire from the Indian Army, but Saira remained determined and continued caring for her plants.

“Luckily, my nursery is a little away from the danger zone. For me, working in this environment is a routine,” said Saira while talking to ‘The News’.

In 2006, when she first discussed the idea of starting a nursery with her family, the reaction was mixed. “Some thought it was a flop idea whereas others said that there was no harm in trying,” said Saira.

At that time, no one could have imagined that this nursery would one day bear all the financial burden of the house and the expenses of educating and marrying off the young ones. Now all family members assist Saira.

Her nursery is now one of the biggest that provides plants to the AJK government for Flood Emergency Reconstruction and Resilience Project (FERRP). It was also selected as one of the 22 nurseries from where the Forest Department would procure plants for land stabilization around new Azad Pattan-Rawalakot Highway constructed under FERRP.

“Plants and trees have several mechanisms that stabilize soil. Root systems hold soil in place while higher trees slow down the force of rain before it hits the ground and absorbs water that can soften the ground cover,” said Director General of FERRP Project Muhammad Bashir Qureshi.

For land stabilization around the road, the Forest Department procured 2.193 m plants from 22 nurseries, out of which 1.5 million land stabilization plants were procured from 15 nurseries owned by women. These women earned Rs20 million from this project.

FERRP was an opportunity for Saira to prove her business skills. “We focus more on plants that are required under this project like Deodar, Eucalyptus etc.,” she said adding that she also plants seedlings of fruit trees and Kashmiri tea, but that is only on a limited scale.

In her message to other women who plan to start a business, she urged them to try their luck in unconventional businesses. “I would like to tell women that they can do anything if they are determined enough, plan well and are ready to do the hard work,” she said offering training for women who are interested in opening up their nursery.

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