By Rimsha Ali Shah
As a student of veterinary medicine at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), Lahore, Samiya Farooq held a strong belief in overhauling agricultural that were more suited to preserving the climate and the habitat. Fast forward four years and now she is the first South Asian professional accredited by the Savory Institute for their course on Holistic Management.
The journey from her time as a student to a professional was lined with achievements, including becoming the first female vice president of her university’s debating club, the joint editor of a student magazine called Vision, an associate member of Seeds of Peace and going to the United States on the Global Undergraduate Semester Exchange Program (UGRAD).
It was, in fact, her association with Seeds of Peace that inculcated the spirit of volunteerism, community service, and civic engagement in her, and paved way for her UGRAD program.
“I was always active in arranging harmony camps and peace activities as a seed of peace. It was during the national integration camp, I had organized that a fellow batch mate of mine, Syed Muhammad Faheem Ahmed, told me about the UGRAD program. I applied and before I knew it, I was in the United States as an exchange participant!”
The experience, Farooq says, has shaped her personality in great ways. Placed at the University of Utah, Farooq had enrolled in livestock management courses that allowed her to visit Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho as part of her field visit. “I wanted to build on the knowledge I had acquired in Pakistan, and my courses offered me the unique opportunity of learning new methods and practices.”
Her interest in veterinary medicine and agriculture helped her connect with people at her university and during her field visits. In fact, Farooq’s keen interest in the subject earned her a spot on the campus radio show where she was able to impress everyone with her knowledge. “I was the first international student to answer all the questions correctly!” she exclaims.
“Exchanges for me are more about exploring and understanding the people, rather than simply ‘going places’,” adds Farooq. She has a special smile as she mentions Francia, her dorm fellow, KC Neil Sorenson, her mentor, and Professor Lyle MC Niel, her professors. “They were always there to raise my spirits and push me to be the best version of myself,” she remarks.
On her return, Farooq continued to put the skills she acquired in Utah into practice. Her outstanding leadership skills and her passion for the community development paved way for her to win the SMILE grant award in 2015 on the theme of teacher’s training. She traveled across four districts of Punjab including Lahore, Kasur, Nana lana Sahab, and Sheikhupura to conduct her workshops with teachers serving in the local schools.
Last year, an opportunity presented itself when Farooq started working as a veterinary extension officer. While studying proposals presented for Sir Richard Branson’s $25 million Virgin Earth challenge launched in 2007, Farooq came across the Savory Institute’s proposal on sustainable livestock farming.
As part of the accreditation process to become a hub of the Savory Institute, Farooq attended five online courses on holistic management, a workshop in Colorado to learn the basics, a boot camp in Zimbabwe where she practically witnessed the land healing, and also saw a demonstration of sustainable farming in a village close to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. She is now the first South Asian accredited professional certified by Savory Institute and a member of the team that is the first Savory Hub candidate in Pakistan.
“We are currently in the process of setting up our first research pilot project in Kasur, to learn the protocols of Holistic Management in Pakistan, according to the Savory Principals. This will not only help us in eradicating poverty by introducing sustainable farming practices, but will also give us a world lead on climate change by carbon sequestration,” she says.
Her active contribution towards climate action also led to her selection as a candidate for PUAN Climate Change Conference 2016, where she had the opportunity to network with exchange alumni from five different countries. “I used to feel that there are not many climate change activists in our country, but to meet so many of them together has been quite inspiring!”
Farooq now plans to pursue her work in soil regeneration and sustainable farming practices. From conducting awareness camps for farmers as a student at UVAS to working on a demonstration site for farmers and students so that they may learn about sustainable yet climate-friendly agricultural practices, Farooq has proved her commitment to bringing change in the lives of farmers through climate-friendly methods.