Once desperate for help, farmers are now looking for better harvest
Abdul Maroof Kochai, FAO National Livestock Assistant Officer in Jalalabad, interacts with farmers on the field.
Abdul Maroof Kochai, National Livestock Assistant Officer at FAO Jalalabad office, tells the story about how FAO’s support sustained crucial livelihoods in rural areas during a difficult period in the country that is adversely affecting people’s lives.
On 23-24 March 2022, I went on a mission to Kunar province in the eastern part of Afghanistan to meet with the provincial de facto authorities, and most importantly to visit farming families in Sarkani district assisted by FAO.
42 000 people in the province are currently being assisted to cultivate wheat. FAO provides each family with certified wheat seed, fertilizers and specific training, as well as providing home gardening assistance to 2 000 women who are heads of their families in Kunar province. All of these families are among the most vulnerable in the district.
In fact, a total of 1.3 million people have benefitted from FAO’s crucial assistance to wheat cultivation in provinces across the country last winter. It’s expected the harvests will provide enough staple food for 1.7 million vulnerable Afghans for one year.
In the meeting with the provincial de facto governor and other relevant provincial officials, I briefed them about FAO’s humanitarian work and our commitment to serving the people of Afghanistan in these trying times in line with core humanitarian principles (neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence).
The de facto authorities urged FAO to provide more assistance to rural people in the eastern region, for farming communities to be able to restore their agriculture and livestock livelihoods. They also highlighted the major challenges faced by people in Kunar province during the past two years, such as drought, COVID-19 pandemic and increased displacements.
Delivering lifesaving assistance
As much as 80 percent of the Afghan population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture. Like some other UN agencies in Afghanistan, FAO has remained on the ground and continued delivering fundamental lifesaving assistance, while scaling up its emergency humanitarian response programmes. FAO’s assistance to farmers and herders across most of Afghanistan’s provinces includes certified wheat seed, fertilizers, livestock protection, cash for work, unconditional cash transfers, home gardening, backyard poultry, and COVID-19 awareness.
Safe access to areas that were not previously reachable due to conflict has significantly improved over the last few months. We at the FAO regional office in Jalalabad have conducted several field visits to remote areas of Nangarhar, Laghman and Kunar provinces in the east of Afghanistan. In several districts, the community leaders told us this was the first time a UN team had traveled to visit with them and ask what they needed.
The economic crisis has severely affected farming communities in the east. Farmers couldn’t afford certified seed and fertilizers; livestock owners were forced to sell their animals to provide food for their families. “We lost our daily wages due to the economic crisis, while the prices of certified wheat seed went up last year,” was a common observation from many farmers in Sarkani district. If FAO hadn’t delivered the certified seeds on time they wouldn’t have been able to cultivate their lands, they added.
The feeling of helplessness
As I spoke to farmers in Sarkani district they all shared one same feeling: helplessness. They couldn’t afford to buy agriculture and livestock inputs to cultivate their lands and feed their animals because of poor economic conditions and already pending debts. Some of the livestock owners were forced to sell the young animals for cheaper prices due to shortage of fodder or to purchase certified wheat seed and fertilizers. Some of the farmers had to buy the wheat seed on loan and pay back a higher price to the local dealers when the crops had been harvested or simply not cultivate their land at all.
The farmers didn’t want to cultivate the local seed because they knew the harvested crops wouldn’t cover the expenses in some cases. Even if they had to choose local seed, they would need a loan and then pay the wheat seller once the crops were harvested.
FAO has provided the only assistance for the farmers to acquire the certified seed. FAO provided each farmer with 50 kg of certified wheat seed, 50 kg of urea fertilizer and technical training on wheat cultivation.
Hopes for a better harvest
The farmers are now looking for better yields this season thanks to FAO’s timely assistance as the wheat seed distributed by FAO is showing good results at the heading stage. The wheat produced this season will be enough to feed the farming families and, hopefully, produce some surplus so they can sell it in the market and generate an income.From my recent interactions people assisted by FAO, it seems the farmers from Sarkani district and several other districts in the eastern region are quite happy with the support they received from FAO..