Afghanistan diaries

Afghanistan diaries

A symbol of resilience: remaining optimistic at the toughest times

Hashim Azizi, FAO National Graphic Designer

©FAO

19 Apr 2022

Hashim Azizi, FAO National Graphic Designer, went on a field mission to eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan to speak to the farmers who benefitted from FAO’s wheat assistance during the winter wheat campaign.

In February, I went on a mission to Nangarhar province in the east of Afghanistan to document the results of FAO’s wheat assistance on the field and speak to farmers about the impact that FAO’s assistance has had on their livelihood so far. The scenes of cheerful farmers working in their fields while wheat had already reached the flowering stage were aesthetically pleasing and hinted at a better future for rural families. It might be for a reason that green is the colour of hope in many cultures around the world.

One of the most important contributions by FAO last year was the distribution of certified wheat seed for vulnerable farmers across Afghanistan. The wheat cultivation assistance by FAO (50 kg certified wheat seed, 50 kg fertilizers and wheat cultivation training) this past winter will enable the farmers to grow enough wheat to feed their families for a year and, hopefully, save some surplus.

Travelling outside of Kabul and exploring the beautiful landscapes of the country after long years of conflict and insecurity was a pleasant experience for me. But the feeling of joy was, at times, overshadowed by the poor living conditions of residents in the districts I went to during this visit. Skinny animals and haggard children reflected the deep suffering of the people in rural areas.

But the smiles on the faces of farmers and some children in the villages of Khewa and Lal Pur districts of Nangarhar, despite the enormous difficulties they are currently facing, help me look on the bright side. These smiles are a symbol of resilience and optimism while facing tough times.

Most farmers I spoke to in these two districts have been harshly affected by the drought in the past two years, as well as the lack of economic prospects following the halt of development projects in Afghanistan since August last year. These farmers had a poor harvest last year due to the drought, as well as to the fact that they were not able to afford quality certified seeds nor fertilizers because of rising prices.

In absence of FAO’s assistance, the farmers could have been forced to cultivate local seed varieties that are widely used but are far less productive and vulnerable to drought. “If we had not received this improved seed, poverty and lack of employment may have obliged us to cultivate the local seed,” said Sanam, a 42-year-old farmer from Khewa district of Nangarhar. “We would have been happy to plant the local seed, but we wouldn’t have been very confident about the outcome,” added the farmer.

Some farmers told me they were already poor but the economic breakdown in the country multiplied their problems. “This small piece of land and the few animals are our only hope now,” a farmer from Sarband village in Lal Pur district who provides for a family of 11 members said. There are currently no other employment opportunities available due to the crisis in the country.

"If I get a good harvest, God willing, I will keep some of it for the next cultivation season because it is good quality seed and I will use the money from the surplus to cover basic needs of my family, such as school bag, stationery and medicine,” a farmer in Shega Charikar village of Khewa district cheerfully anticipated.

Without this assistance, farmers in Khewa and Lal Pur told me, they would have no choice but to sell their animals to feed their families and buy certified seeds. For farmers who rely on agriculture and small-scale livestock, that means losing a substantial part of their livelihood. And for farmers who do not have livestock it means losing their livelihood completely.

Certified wheat seed distributed by FAO are at flowering stage now turning yellow in Nangarhar and across the region. The results are looking exceptionally good. Looking at the results so far, farmers are optimistic about the upcoming harvest. One jerib (around 0.2 ha) of land will produce up to 840 kg of wheat with only 25 kg certified seed. The 50 kg of certified seed provided by FAO will support an average family of seven members for one year, as well as produce some surplus for next season.

“The germination is very good,” said Farhad, the head of a 7-member family in Sarband village assisted by FAO. “The results are good so far,” he added.

While wheat assistance by FAO created some hope among the farmers in Nangarhar, the overall situation in Afghanistan remains dire. As I left back for Kabul with mixed feelings, I decided to do even more to contribute to averting the humanitarian situation in the country. I wish the little sparks of hope that I saw during my visit to the province are preserved and prolonged.