Wednesday, 15 November 2017

In northern Afghanistan farmers learn to grow more crops

Balkh Province, North of Afghanistan - A gas lamp emits a dull glow in the otherwise dark, gray room. The room is humid and climate-controlled, heavy plastic bags hang from ropes dangling from the ceiling in neatly ordered, straight lines. Zakia, 24, wearing a special mask, is examining the bags and notices mushrooms sprouting in some of them. Carefully, she makes tiny holes in the plastic to take the mushrooms out. 
“This dark room has brought light to my life, it has given me the opportunity to earn a living,” Zakia says. She is one of thousands of beneficiaries of the kitchen gardening scheme under the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP). “I was without a job and dependent on others, but NHLP helped me and many other women in our village to become financially independent and self-sufficient,” says Zakia, who had recently established her mushroom production unit with NHLP support. Zakia, who supports her family of seven, lives in Ulmarab village, Nahr-e-Shahi district, in Balkh Province. She also maintains a kitchen garden in a micro-greenhouse, one of the other activities supported by NHLP, but that did not generate enough income to meet her financial needs. To set up the mushroom production unit, Zakia was given technical training as well as resources by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) under the NHLP. She has not only learnt the production process but has also mastered the art of developing and tapping the market. She sells mushrooms to her neighbors and nearby shops, and supplements these sales with vegetables from her kitchen garden, pitching herself as the one-stop supplier for garden produce. She is the only woman in her village to own and manage an independent production unit, and is hailed as an example of economic empowerment by her community. Her life has changed and her dreams have grown. “I want to expand my work in the future, in addition to encouraging more women to start production or small businesses of their own,” she says. Najia, 45, another beneficiary from Ulmarab village, received training on how to cultivate vegetables and was given resources to build a micro-greenhouse. “I was a housewife before the kitchen gardening scheme,” says the mother of six, “I never had enough money to buy vegetables and did not know how to cultivate them in my yard.” Supplemented with grants of seasonal vegetable seeds, Najia quickly ensured nutritional and economic self-sufficiency for her 10 family members. “I cultivate leek, onion, cress, celery, carrot, and other vegetables. I used to buy vegetables from the shopkeepers, but now I produce for myself and also sell to them,” she says.
Improving Production Practices - With a $190 million grant support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), NHLP is working toward the overarching goal of increased productivity and overall production of horticultural products. It began national activities in April 2013 and its work will run through the end of 2020. NHLP activities have three components: horticultural production, animal production and health, and implementation management and technical assistance. The project aims to promote adoption of improved production practices by target farmers, with gradual rollout of farmer-centric agricultural services, systems, and investment support across the country. Its activities are currently implemented in 300 districts in 31 target provinces, numbers that may grow as conditions warrant. In Balkh, NHLP covers activities in horticulture, livestock management, and kitchen gardening. In 2016, NHLP established over 4,000 jeribs (800 hectares) of pomegranate, almond, grape, peach orchards, and 4,000 jeribs of pistachio orchards. The program also built 200 standardized raisin drying houses to help farmers dry grapes into raisins. Additionally, the program enhanced water supply to farmers by building 330 irrigation water pools, digging 21 water wells, and installing 21 solar water pumps.
Learning Livestock Management - NHLP trainings have gone a long way in enabling rural populations to have a better life. In addition to kitchen gardening, NHLP also supports livestock management. As a part of this scheme, farmers are given training on animal nutrition, animal husbandry as well as vaccination. “I participate in all NHLP trainings and have learnt a lot. I use this knowledge to bring changes in my farm,” says farmer Saifuddin, 22, a beneficiary of the livestock management scheme. Saifuddin has a small animal farm with 17 cows in Takhta Pul village in Dihdadi district. He produces 70 liters of milk daily, which he sells to local shopkeepers. “After the training, I reorganized my farm,” he says. “I now understand the value of hygiene, to keep the stable clean. I vaccinate the animals on the advice of the vet and now they are healthy.” NHLP has improved livelihoods, access to income, and health for over tens of thousands of families, including those most vulnerable and poverty stricken. Many poor families in Balkh Province were not able to buy vegetables and now they cultivate their own. “There were families who did not eat vegetables even once a week and many children were malnourished,” says Khalida Alakozai, the local officer in charge of the NHLP kitchen gardening scheme. “Our training and livelihood support have encouraged many poor families to start kitchen gardening and all these families now eat vegetables regularly, at least once a day.”