Afghanistan diaries

Afghanistan diaries

A mission to Uruzgan, one of the most affected provinces by drought and conflict

Mumtaz Baryal, FAO Local Social Mobilizer, listens to farmers in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan


Mumtaz Baryal - 20 Feb 2022

Mumtaz Baryal, FAO Local Social Mobilizer, participated in a joint UN humanitarian mission to assess the situation and monitor field activities in a former battlefield 

“Little did drought matter when you could not access your field because fighting was going on out there”. This was a common comment I heard during my visit to Uruzgan province this month of February.  

I joined a UN mission with colleagues from the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). 

We travelled from Kandahar, the southern hub of Afghanistan, to Uruzgan province, one of the most severely struck areas by the combination of armed conflict and drought. Six out of ten people are currently suffering crisis and emergency levels of acute food insecurity in Uruzgan, according to the latest IPC food security assessment. This is acute hunger. They are the ones who stayed in the province, for now. Many others, unable to access their land due to fighting and devoid of agricultural inputs, left to urban centres, regional capitals and abroad. 

Our mission aimed to keep our finger on the pulse of the humanitarian situation, and monitor all field activities. Personally, I was interested in listening to farmers and herders to understand how we, FAO, can improve and scale up our assistance to meet their needs.   

We were also there to pave the way for humanitarian operations in a province that has been hard-to-reach for a long time. As a battlefield, many areas were simply not accessible, but access is no longer an issue. Meetings with key stakeholders like community elders, humanitarian partners and de facto authorities took over another large part of the agenda. 

Our first stop was in Chora district. I noticed clear signs of food insecurity among most people. Their eyes spoke of malnourishment, words from their mouths confirmed that they are skipping meals. Too often, they don’t know what their next meal would be or where it will come from. Hunger is clearly on the rise. According to the head nurse of Chora Clinic Hospital, they receive from 20 to 25 SAM (Severe Acute Malnutrition) cases every day. Although it is not news as it is estimated that 1.3 million children across the country are severely malnourished, I felt so exasperated when I heard that. 

Agriculture, key to reactivate the economy 

As for most parts of Afghanistan, agriculture is the main livelihood in Uruzgan. Arable land is available for cultivation and the terrain is suitable for animal husbandry. But (always but!), farmers can’t afford quality seeds and fertilizers due to the economic crisis. Livestock keepers and herders are experiencing dramatic levels of destocking, over 80 percent in many cases; if they need to buy something, food for their family, food for their animals or medical supplies, their only option is to sell animals. Simply their only choice, a desperate one. 

I listened to many farmers. Many of their stories were depressing. They spoke with a unanimous voice. Their main concern is the lack of seeds, tools, fertilizers, herbicides, machinery. Unemployment is indeed another major concern. Most people I spoke to told me they are not able to find a job or daily wage opportunities to provide for their families. 

FAO supported with the wheat cultivation package a total of 28 000 people in Uruzgan in 2021. This assistance consists of high-quality certified wheat seeds (50 kg), urea (50 kg) and diammonium phosphate fertilizer (50 kg), couple with specific wheat cultivation training.

This year our aim is to scale up the assistance and reach 108 000 people in Uruzgan with this wheat package. Overall, FAO aims to assist over 230 000 people in Uruzgan. The assistance also includes support to herders with animal feed and veterinary assistance, boosting alternative livelihoods like home gardening, providing seeds and training for summer crops, as well as offering cash-based assistance through unconditional cash transfers and cash for work projects to rehabilitate key water infrastructures. 

Agriculture, a cost-effective intervention 

During this mission I also visited some families assisted with the backyard poultry package. I talked to people like Shah Khan, a disabled man from Tarinkot district. He is the head of one of the 575 families that have received this type of support from FAO, which consists of 17 pullets, 3 roosters, 150 kg of feed, coop materials, drinkers and feeders. His daughter told me that the pullets they received “are already laying between 8 and 12 eggs daily, and that is the only income of the family now”. On top of that, eggs are also key to improve their nutrition. “Without this, it would be so hard to for our family to have anything to eat,” the 11-year-old added. 

I had mixed feelings of sadness and hope after the mission. The situation remains dramatic. But this last conversation brought a bit of hope as well as validation to our work. Agriculture is definitely a cost-effective humanitarian intervention. It doesn’t only offer an immediate means to cope with hunger, but it also lays the foundation for resilience, while cushioning the impact of any food crisis. Agriculture support helps vulnerable communities create their own pathway to self-reliance and out of the crisis.