Agriculture Leads to Stability in Afghanistan

According to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, ‘without effective agriculture, there’s no stability – political, social, and economic – it is the most important issue in governance.’ These statements were reiterated and expanded upon during the country’s 4th Annual National Extension Conference, entitled “Rebuilding Momentum,” which took place on February 20-22, 2016.

A conference room full with peopleThe Conference was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) as well as the Directorates of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, with facilitation by the Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project II (AAEP II) and the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). AAEP-II, now in its second phase, is funded by USAID and led by UC-Davis, with participation from four other U.S. Land Grant Universities. The University of Maryland proudly leads the Women’s Programming for AAEP-II, as part of the Women in Agriculture Program in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (AREC). Taryn Devereux, serves as the program’s coordinator in AREC.

The Conference was by all accounts an enormous success and brought together 480 diverse participants from various sectors, including government, private, and non-profit, as well as small-scale and commercial farmers.

The stated objectives of the conference were:

  • to introduce the National Agriculture Extension Policy and the Extension Service Model;
  • to identify challenges in transfer of knowledge and skills to farmers;
  • to introduce provincial and district projects and strengthen coordination among them;
  • to identify and facilitate the role of private sector in implementing MAIL’s long-term plans; and
  • to strengthen farmer and private sector linkages.

People walk through several plots of different cropsThe Conference opened at the Presidential Palace in Kabul at the invitation of President Ghani, who gave the inaugural speech, and was followed by three days of small group sessions, dialogues, presentations, and networking opportunities. Also in attendance was the current Minister of Agriculture, H.E. Asssadullah Zamir, who gave a keynote speech at the Conference’s opening.

The small group sessions in particular were a key component of the Conference proceedings and enabled participants to exchange concerns and ideas about the state of agriculture in Afghanistan. After breaking off into groups, participants were asked to identify the top three obstacles faced by newly trained extension workers in transferring knowledge and skills during the provincial model teaching farms’ (PMTF) trainings to farm families at the FFS level. After discussing and identifying the three top obstacles, all small groups reconvened and votes were tallied to come up with a list for entire Conference to discuss. Participants were then asked to identify solutions to these problems, first in small groups and then again all together.

The results are as follows:

Obstacle -1 Lack of required necessities (office equipment, office, transport, budget, communication tools and field benefits) for extension workers
Solution Allocating adequate funds for office construction, purchasing of office equipment, provision of transport services, communication tools, field benefits, increased salaries, preparation of mobile credits cards for extension workers, and  establishment of demonstration plots for enhancing of capacity of extension workers 188
Obstacles -2  Lack of security in most of the areas
Solution Create job opportunities through adding value to products from production to final consumers 90
Obstacle -3   Low confidence of farmers in extension workers because of their low qualifications and experience
Solution Assigning budget to establish research, extension and training farms in different areas to enable farmers to see practically the result of activities and build their confidence in extension workers 97

The Conference served as a valuable platform for information to be exchanged between representatives from the different agricultural sectors, including MAIL, who expressed their intention to take feedback from the participants into consideration. In attendance on the last day of the Conference was the Minister of Agriculture among other key stakeholders, and conference participants had the opportunity to share the obstacles and solutions, along with other concerns and ideas. On this day simultaneously, the Conference also hosted a “Farm Demonstration” in which each university program shared news on their latest projects, bringing in livestock, seed varieties, and new technologies to demonstrate.

Three women and a child taking notes on soilThe UMD-WIA Program has experienced all three of the identified obstacles on some level. Now halfway through the three-year project, our team has become highly adept at coming up with innovative solutions to a constantly evolving landscape. Most recently, UMD-WIA transitioned its center of operations from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif.  While the Regional Site Director, Sophia Wilcox, focuses most of her efforts in Mazar, a small team of mostly young Afghan women in Kabul has been trained to continue to run operations from there.

Source: College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Date: May 14 2016