6 October 2003, Rome -- More than 430 000 farmers in the mountains of the Hazarajat, one of the poorest regions of Afghanistan, will receive assistance over the next four years through a major development project, FAO said in a statement today.

The United Kingdom has agreed to provide $6 million for sustainable agricultural livelihoods development in the Eastern Hazarajat.

The objective of the UK-funded FAO project is to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the region, improve farm production, generate income opportunities, and build up or strengthen institutions at community, district and provincial level, FAO said.

Where life is a struggle

The Eastern Hazarajat covers the mountains north-west and east of Kabul. It includes all of Bamiyan province and the high altitude areas of Wardak, Ghazni, Uruzgan and Ghor.

People are living between 2000 and 3200 metres altitude, with summer grazing and rangeland extending even higher, to over 4000 metres. Life is a permanent struggle there.

The Hazaras are one of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, comprising some nine percent of the population. They have suffered over a century of discrimination and neglect, which has been made worse by the ravages of the civil war with human rights abuses and, most recently, severe drought.

More than 80 percent of the population are living below the poverty line.

The Eastern Hazarajat has not traditionally been a poppy producing area. But there are reports that poppies are starting to be grown, particularly in the lower valleys.

Attracted by high prices and eradication in the more visible areas of Helmand and Kandahar, opium traders are now extending their influence into the remote highland areas. The Hazarajat region also provides labour for poppy harvesting elsewhere.

"Development of alternative livelihoods is an important counter to the expanding drug economy", said Serge Verniau, FAO Representative in Afghanistan.

Improving living conditions

People in the Hazarajat depend almost exclusively on agriculture for their survival. Their living conditions could be significantly improved through better crop and livestock production.

Higher yielding and disease resistant wheat varieties, potatoes, pulses as well as fruit and nuts could be introduced. The production of cash crops such as potatoes and vegetables, together with improved methods of preserving and storing perishable food, would also improve the wellbeing of people, FAO said.

Rural roads also need to be improved so farmers can reach markets and reduce transportation costs. In winter the key passes are blocked by snow and in spring, melted snow, rain and mud make many of the mountain roads impassable.

Copying the success of farmers' groups

"The main objective of the UK/FAO project is to assist local communities to develop the skills to resolve their own problems," Serge Verniau said.

This will be done mainly through farmer-based organisations. Education and training of groups of farmers will become the major tool to develop the human resources of the rural communities, so that people can make informed choices.

Farmers' groups have been working successfully in Afghanistan, especially in FAO projects on national seed production and poultry raising by women. The UN agency will expand these positive experiences to the Eastern Hazarajat area.

Particular activities will be directed to women. Their situation is very difficult, with limited access to education and very high illiteracy rates (up to 95 percent). Women are responsible for much of the labour intensive work such as collecting water, fodder and fuel wood.

Finally, the project will promote locally-based partnerships among farm families, government officers who are responsible for local administration, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, particularly the suppliers of agricultural inputs, transport and marketing.

In Afghanistan, FAO has become a strong player in supporting farmers with projects in seed multiplication and delivery, animal production and health services, milk production and marketing projects, successful poultry raising projects for women and the rehabilitation of irrigation systems.

Several hundred thousand farmers have profited from these projects. For example, in the past ten years, FAO has built up the capacity of the national seed system from 300 to over 10 000 tonnes per year of quality seeds.


Contact:
Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
erwin.northoff@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 53105