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Afghanistan | protecting livestock herders and markets in times of COVID-19

Afghanistan | Protecting livestock herders and markets in times of COVID-19


FAO has been working to support vulnerable farmers in Afghanistan and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in agricultural markets across the country. At Jalalabad’s livestock market, Gholam Rasool, a livestock vendor, recalled hearing announcements from a megaphone in the centre of the market advising all to “keep two metres distance and not to shake hands or hug, and to wear a facemask and gloves.” For Rasool, the advice was new, and learning more about the risks he was facing from COVID-19, he took the suggestion to heart. 

“People live in remote places. So, they don’t have access to TV, radio and information banners,” said Mohammad Dawood, who works for a local NGO, Afghanistan National Re-Construction Co-ordination, that has partnered with FAO to spread the word about COVID-19 at livestock markets in Afghanistan. “And these markets are overcrowded places,” he added. That is why, since Afghanistan emerged from lockdown, his team has been providing awareness materials, sanitation kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) to market vendors. 

FAO became increasingly concerned about the pandemic in early 2020 – especially on how it would affect the livelihoods of vulnerable groups in Afghanistan that depend on agriculture and livestock for a living. 

“We pulled together information on what drives the already existing food insecurity in the country, how and at what time of year different groups produce food or migrate their animals,” said Rajendra Aryal, FAO Representative in Afghanistan, “And at how the pandemic is expected to evolve. Then we looked at the policies and measures the government had put in place and how those were affecting these different groups,” he explained.

It became clear that for Kuchi herders and vulnerable farmers – particularly female-headed households and landless migrants – the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions would come at a critical time in the agriculture and livestock calendars. In a normal year, this would be the time farmers get ready to harvest the main staple crops and herders would migrate their livestock to traditional grazing areas. Without access to pasture or a chance to sell newly harvested crops, many of these families were at risk of falling further into poverty or even destitution. 

FAO anticipated this and implemented a project that would quickly provide unconditional cash assistance to vulnerable farmers to make up for their likely losses and support Kuchis with fodder and veterinary support to keep some 40 000 sheep, goats and cows strong during their seasonal migration. These inputs would also keep them healthy and productive throughout the pandemic and winter period.  

“Now is a critical time for livestock owners to build up the strength and fat stores of their animals ahead of the harsh and bitterly cold winter season,” said Mr. Aryal. “And it’s the time to make the trades that are going to ensure families have the money to buy the food and essential items they themselves will need in the coming months. That’s why acting early and quickly to protect people and animals is so critical.”  

Protecting livestock owners and farmers also requires protecting the spaces they trade from outbreaks of COVID-19 so they can stay open. To this end, FAO acted early with campaigns in 17 major livestock and agriculture markets across Afghanistan. Together, these markets provide an income for more than 30 000 vendors and serve over 125 000 customers each year. In addition to information on COVID-safety measures, the anticipatory action has been providing hygiene and sanitation products, COVID-PPE, thermal measuring equipment and training. 

Haji Agha Jan, a livestock vendor at Bagh-e-Pol market, appreciated the PPE demonstration and is saving the printed materials to take home to his village, he says, where many don’t have access to this information. “With a few easy steps, we can protect ourselves and our families from the disease, so we will explain these things and ask them to use it.” 

FAO’s anticipatory action in Afghanistan was possible thanks to the quick release of funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund, FAO’s Special Fund Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities, and the Government of Germany