FAO in Afghanistan

Forest rehabilitation initiatives to promote sustainable management of pistachio trees

A member of the Kokchail Forestry Management Association mulches saplings for humidity conservation in Badghis Province. ©FAO/Obaidullah Durani

Afghanistan once had more than 450 000 ha of pistachio trees. Around 40 percent of this has been destroyed due to war and poverty. Over-exploitation of pistachio trees, overgrazing, unsustainable harvesting, and the limited number of rehabilitation and restoration initiatives have contributed to large-scale deforestation of pistachio trees across the country. The problem is particularly severe in Badghis Province, which has the country’s highest concentration of pistachio forests.

After 2010, several forest rehabilitation efforts were made by the agriculture sector stakeholders and pistachio production increased by 0.1 percent every year since 2014. Afghanistan was ranked 11 out of 20 courtiers at 2 755 tonnes of pistachio production in 2019 compared to countries like Iran, China, Turkey, Syria, Greece, Spain, Italy, Madagascar, Tunisia and the United States of America.

To conserve the pistachio forest and put cash in the pockets of farmers, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with support from the Global Environment Fund (GEF) excavated trenches and terraces, distributed pistachio seeds and saplings as well provided alternative livelihood options to local communities in Badghis Province. FAO also gave Ferula Asafetida seeds to be cultivated in trenches as an associated intercrop.

Ferula Asafetida, locally called ‘hing’ is a perennial herb which normally grows wild in northern and central Afghanistan. The plant is indigenous to the country and is best suited for Badghis Province's ecosystem.

To reduce demand for wood fuel and decrease pressure on forests, FAO built 50 solar passive houses and improved 50 stables to reduce antimicrobial resistance for good animal health.

The United Nations agency also worked with the communities to afforest 1 700 ha of pistachio forest and distributed 295 kg of Ferula seeds planted on 376 ha of land. In addition, 1 000 fuel efficient cookstoves and 50 small backyard poultry farms were given as alternative livelihood sources.

“FAO provided us with fuel efficient cookstoves and backyard poultry packages. As a result, we no longer need to go to the forest to cut trees for firewood everyday nor spend a lot of money buying wood fuel from the market. I now sell eggs and roosters which earn me sufficient income to meet my family needs," said Aminullah, the head of Mubarak Shah Forest Management Association (FMA) in Abkamary District of Badghis.

13 FMAs were established by FAO in Abkamary District to encourage sustainable forest management practices among the communities. Through the FMAs, the community planted the pistachio and Ferula Asafetida trees as well as implemented improved forest management initiatives such as quarantine, rotational grazing and controlled grazing. They were trained and taught on the importance of and existing threats to the natural resources.

“As forests combat climate change, prevent flooding and preserve soil as well as result in less air pollution, pistachio trees in Badghis has the same contribution to climate change mitigation. On the other hand, these forests have a positive economic impact on the livelihood of host communities,” said Abdul Karim, a member of Pada-e-Nokdari FMA.

Agroforestry uses the ecological functions of trees, animals, and crops, and has the potential of increasing food production while simultaneously reducing agriculture’s footprint on the environment.

FAO works closely with local communities to help in sustainable management of natural resources and food systems, through conservation of natural resources, promoting alternative livelihoods, and making people aware of the importance of forest and rangelands.