“I used to cultivate wheat and corn, but I didn’t earn much,” says Yousuf, who has been a farmer for more than 20 years. He owns three jeribs (about 0.6 hectares) of farmland, a small plot from which he has to provide for nine family members. Although Yousuf is an experienced farmer and harvested an average of 600 kilos of wheat a year, the earnings were not enough to feed his family. He had to work as a day laborer as well to keep afloat.
In 2016, he found out about the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP) through his neighbor, Mohammad Akbar, 45. With the support of NHLP, he planted a two-jerib apple orchard in May 2016. This was the beginning of an entirely new journey. “I planted the trees in consultation with NHLP employees after I understood that an orchard would lead to much higher earnings, compared with what I was making with wheat,” says Yousuf enthusiastically.
He and Akbar live in Malaspa village in the Bazarak district of Panjshir Province in central Afghanistan. Akbar has planted five jeribs (about 1 hectare) of grapes, almonds, apples, peaches, and cherries over the past four years with NHLP’s help.
“The horticulture system used by NHLP is very different from the one we had,” says Akbar, who will harvest his orchard this year. “In this system, saplings are certified and we can start harvesting the crop after three years of planting.”
Promote Better Practices
NHLP is working toward the overarching goal of increased productivity and overall production of horticultural products. It operates under the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and is supported by a $190 million grant from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). It began national activities in April 2013 and its work will run through the end of 2020.
The project aims to promote adoption of improved production practices by target farmers, with gradual roll-out of farmer-centric agricultural services, systems, and investment support across the country. Its activities are currently implemented in 285 districts in 33 target provinces, numbers that may grow as conditions warrant. NHLP activities have three components: horticultural production, animal production and health, and implementation management and technical assistance.
Although Panjshir is a mountainous province with little farmland for cultivating grains, most of the locals engaged in this type of agriculture because they were not aware of modern horticultural methods. Orchards were typically reserved for family use and the produce was not taken to be sold at the market.
Since the NHLP started its activities in Panjshir in 2008, the inhabitants have learned about modern horticulture. They are planting new orchards or replacing their traditional gardens with modern ones. This has impacted farmers like Akbar, whose entire life has been dependent on farming and gardening. “Soon my orchard will be ready to harvest and I hope that NHLP covers all seven districts of Panjshir, leading to the planting of more than 2,000 jeribs (about 400 hectares) of orchards of crops, such as grapes, almonds, apples, and peachesjeribs (about 400 hectares) of orchards of crops, such as grapes, almonds, apples, and peaches. It has institutionalized the culture of modern gardening in the province. “Our activities have impacted people’s views toward horticulture,” says Sefatullah Sultani, NHLP provincial coordinator for Panjshir Province.
As part of its work, NHLP established 70 horticulture groups of targeted farmers in the province. Every month, a Farmer Field School is held on different topics on new methods of irrigation, fertilization, use of pesticides, harvesting, marketing, and other related topics. It enables the farmers to tackle the challenges they are facing and share their experiences in groups.
We are satisfied with NHLP activities, as everything they are doing is for our benefit, and we are trying to take the most advantage of it,’’ says Saheb Nazar, 40, a resident of Malaspa village. Four years ago, Nazar planted two jeribs of cherries and followed the instructions step-by-step given by NHLP staff. He has been harvesting crops from the orchard for the past year.
“The NHLP trees are not getting any diseases because they are certified, and we take care of them much more to achieve better harvests,” says Nazar. NHLP has helped plant orchards and trained farmers, which will enable them to sustain their development after the project is no longer active in the province.
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