Zad Kamar is a Pashto community in a predominantly ethnic Tajik area of northeast Afghanistan. Located in Khanabad District (Kunduz Province), it was situated along the front-line of the war between the Pashto-majority Taliban and the Northern Alliance.
The village persevered through fighting and drought but, when it came under heavy bombing during the Coalition’s campaign to oust the Taliban, most of the villagers fled. They returned in 2002. What hadn’t been devastated by the drought had been destroyed by war.
In May 2003, Mercy Corps began a program funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Office to help Zad Kamar and other former front-line communities in six districts of Kunduz and Takhar Provinces. Because 85% of the communities rely on agriculture, the program rehabilitates irrigation infrastructure, combats soil erosion and establishes vegetable gardens.
In Zad Kamar, the Jaylar Canal had fallen into disrepair and couldn’t provide sufficient water for wheat and rice production, the community’s economic mainstays. Farmers like Omar had to plant low-yield rain-fed wheat. As a result, Omar’s harvest never met his family’s needs and so he and his eldest son worked as laborers for large land holders just so the family could subsist.
Mercy Corps and the community rehabilitated six kilometers of Jaylar Canal, its dam and spillway system. For the first time in two decades, Zad Kamar has year-round access to water and is able to irrigate 1,500 hectares of land.
When Mercy Corps visited Omar in May, he was planting vegetables and melons on one jerib of land while flooding his other four jeribs for rice. Smiling broadly, Omar said, “This is the first time in 19 years we have had irrigation water. Now I can plant vegetables for my children to eat! We’ll eat the rice, too, but there will be some left to sell at the bazaar.”
Omar calculates that he will produce three times more rice than wheat. “God willing,” he says, “this crop will provide the food my family needs during the winter plus fresh vegetables all summer.”
Mercy Corps also helped Amina, a widow with four children to start a vegetable garden. She lives with her brother-in-law and his family in Zad Kamar.
“With the water from the canal and the seeds and training from Mercy Corps, I will be able to plant vegetables in our compound," Amina said. "My son and brother in-law can plant our rice paddies which we have not been able to do since before the drought.”
Mercy Corps has helped 1,000 vulnerable families (80% of which are women-headed) start vegetable gardens. The food security of 15,000 people has been improved by giving them renewed access to 6,000 hectares of agricultural land through the rehabilitation of 40 kilometers of irrigation networks. To prevent soil erosion, 25,000 mulberry saplings have been planted along the waterways.
Bright green shoots are breaking through the soil in Amina’s garden. She says proudly, “This garden is from me. Now I’m helping not only my children but the whole family. God willing, our lives can only improve.”