Planting seeds of hope in hearts of Afghan women
Nazifa Natiq, FAO Regional Resilience Officer in Mazar-e-Sharif
Nazifa Natiq, FAO Regional Resilience Officer in Mazar-e-Sharif, tells us how the cooking demonstrations she conducts in northern Afghanistan help rural women produce nutritious food and improve their family’s nutrition, while they generate a new or additional income.
At the beginning of March this year, I went on a field mission to Sholgara district, Balkh province, just south of the provincial center Mazar-e-Sharif, to conduct a soybean cooking training to female farmers in Qadem village. Together with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and with funding from the Republic of Korea, FAO has been working to improve soybean varieties and production in Afghanistan. This will help Afghans have better access to nutritious food at affordable prices.
The soybean project’s components include variety development and certified seed production, certified soybean seed distribution, soybean processing, and market linkages.
Also known as "the poor's meat" soybean is a rich source of plant-based protein. Soybean is being adopted by Afghans to combat the chronic lack of daily protein in their diet. In Afghanistan, malnutrition goes hand in hand with the chronic lack of daily protein intake as many families cannot afford meat protein.
While FAO support to rural women is significant, and the passion of the rural women that I visited remains fierce, the humanitarian situation is nevertheless getting worse every day. During my one-day journey, I witnessed clear signs of poverty, scarcity of food, unemployment and, more importantly, hopelessness across the district. The housing conditions of the people were poor, and the physical appearance of the children reflected their lack of access to nutritious food. Some participants had lost husbands to the decades-long conflict, leaving widows with no choice but to provide for their families on their own. Most women in the village are illiterate and FAO support to these women is pivotal.
I still remember the time in early August last year when we were relocated to Kabul for a short period of time due to the heightened insecurity at the time. I didn’t want to leave because I am happy when I am in the field working with women from the villages. But I did not really have a choice if I wanted to stay and pursue my work in the future. So it was great to be back in the field and meet a group of women that FAO was supporting with soybean seeds.
The soybean packages include 25 kg of soybean certified seed, 25 kg diammonium phosphate (DAP), 25 kg Urea and 250 gr inoculant to promote plant health.
I can’t imagine not being able to work and deliver the fundamental assistance to farmers, especially women. Although there are some restrictions now, I am content that as part of the UN, I can continue working to avert the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. I am optimistic that things will improve for some rural families with required agriculture and livestock assistance delivered on time.
We can’t let people starve nor face food insecurity. I will do everything possible to make sure women farmers can continue to produce food and support rural livelihoods.
I try to plant hope in the hearts of some vulnerable women across the districts and villages of northern provinces. I do this by organizing trainings to farmers and herders, especially women, leading field missions to various sites, participating in distribution of assistance packages, and improving capacity of implementing partners and relevant counterparts in delivering the needed agriculture assistance to rural people.
I believe empowering rural communities through agricultural inputs and services is critical to raise local food production, protect livestock, increase rural incomes and improve the food security of poor and vulnerable Afghans, as well as increase the resilience of women and help farming families access markets.