Bonding on the job in Bamyan, Afghanistan

Women livestock keepers develop their skills and a greater sense of community

Khadija’s livestock, received as part of an FAO project, have become a real lifeline for her and her family and has helped her tap into a community of women. ©FAO/Rahman Shadan


The area of Bamyan in central Afghanistan is located right in the middle of what was known as the Silk Road and used to be a strategic resting point for travellers and merchants. It was meeting point of cultures and once a hub of Buddhism, but today it is more known for its majestic mountains, lush fruit orchards, ample arable land and abundant pastures. In fact, many people who live there, like Khadija Hashemi, raise sheep and goats. 

Whilst men do most of the farming, it is the women who take care of livestock. It tends to be a solitary activity, however, and women working together as a community is uncommon in Afghanistan. One project, the Household Food and Livelihood Security (HFLS) project funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation, aims to change this, bringing women together, boosting their knowledge and raising incomes not just for their own households, but for their whole community.  

The women livestock keepers participate and form bonds in group meetings, where they can exchange their views, share experiences and learn new techniques as well as keep in contact with their relatives or loved ones.

The Bamyan valley has a fascinating history, beautiful landscapes and abundant pastureland, allowing many of the local women to raise livestock to feed their families. Left/top: ©FAO/Freshta Ghani Right/bottom: ©FAO/Rahman Shadan

Khadija’s story

Khadija, her husband and their children live together in Parjoyak village in the Bamyan valley. Her family used to rely on her husband’s farming income, but it couldn’t cover even the basic needs of the 10-member family. Whilst Khadija had some experience keeping livestock, it was not enough to improve their family’s situation - until she received support through the HFLS project.

The project provided Khadija and around 1 200 other households in Bamyan with two lactating sheep, two lambs and 140 kilograms of different feeds. The project also offered training on better livestock management, preparation of nutritious feed and identification and treatment of common livestock diseases, including vaccinations.

A sense of community

For the women, one of the most important parts of the project is the sheep-rearing training groups, formed by the HFLS project and run by the women themselves. Khadija and 13 other women form the group in her village, and they hold a meeting twice a month to discuss topics such as sheep rearing and feeding, treatment of common diseases, vaccination and safe milk production. The meeting is led by an FAO worker, but it is the women themselves who exchange their views and knowledge and help each other to improve their farming techniques. The project has fostered a real sense of community.

“I eagerly participate in the meetings organised by the group as it helps me build a strong relationship with other women in the community,” Khadija says. “Being a member of this group gives me the opportunity to exchange my experience with other women and learn new techniques on better livestock management.”

Khadija now gets many litres of milk a day from her livestock. She can now sell this milk for extra income or safely process it into yoghurt to feed her children. ©FAO/Rahman Shadan

The next level

The HFLS project provided training and equipment to take the women’s livestock knowledge to the next level, as well as to improve the value of their milk products. Each woman was provided with a household dairy processing package, including a manual yogurt processing or churning machine, a milk collection can and yogurt dehydrator. This was supplemented by a training carried out by a dairy industry expert from FAO. The workshops focused on safe milk production, quality control of raw milk and dairy processing. Prior to this, the women produced and processed their dairy products through animal skins, which were often contaminated with insects and germs. Now, the women are able to produce safe, quality products that are attractive to buyers, thereby increasing their incomes.

“Now I get five or six litres of milk every day. I use the milk for household consumption and sell the surplus milk to the neighbours,” Khadija says proudly. “It’s a great source of income, and the money I earn through the sale of milk I spend on my children’s education and daily household expenses.”

Women play an important role in family farming, but their contributions are often overlooked. In Afghanistan, supporting women’s role in livestock management and providing them with better resources can improve nutrition and income, for themselves, their families and their communities. FAO supports women in agriculture by increasing access to resources and offering training to improve skills, creating a more equal and effective global agricultural sector.

Learn more

1. No poverty, 5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth