Supporting Themselves Through Agriculture

Afghanistan, March 3, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Photo: Cassandra Nelson/ Mercy Corps  </span>
    Most families in Afghanistan cannot afford to buy toys for their children. This girl in Kunduz, like so many other Afghan children, was resourceful enough to make her own. Kite-flying is traditionally a sport for men and boys in Afghanistan, although young girls sometimes join in the fun. Photo: Photo: Cassandra Nelson/ Mercy Corps
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As Afghanistan struggles to recover from 30 years of conflict and the global food crisis, Mercy Corps – in continuous operation there since 1986 – is helping hardworking Afghans regain their ability to support their families with dignity.

Agriculture is a vital livelihood and the focus of dozens of Mercy Corps programs aimed at boosting local economies and food supplies. We’re helping farmers increase productivity through improved water, pest and soil management; seed production; and planting and harvest techniques. We’re advancing toward long-term goals such as broadening community participation, creating jobs for men and women, and linking poor communities to sustainable markets.

Our programs teach basic literacy and numeracy to help rural women gain a greater voice. We’re also teaching women how to earn extra income with poultry and household gardens.

To ensure that capital is locally available to sustain these enterprises, we’re improving access to agricultural credit via Ariana Financial Services, a microfinance institution started by Mercy Corps in 2002 and independent as of 2008. Most Ariana clients are women.

Mercy Corps operates two high-quality wheat seed centers to increase agricultural production. They are now mostly self-sustaining private enterprises, thus contributing to the nascent domestic seed industry. And, we have established a network of 23 veterinary field units that are helping farmers improve the health and productivity of their sheep and cattle. In a first for Afghanistan, these vet units have become fully self- sustaining – without need for Mercy Corps subsidies – since their transition to profit-making private enterprises.

Our work to revitalize the fruit and nut tree industry is providing farmers with licit cash crops by restoring orchards and nurseries damaged during decades of conflict. One lucrative source of income is traditional crops, such as grapes and pomegranates, cultivated for the profitable export market.

Young Afghans are discovering a productive future in agriculture thanks to Mercy Corps’ efforts to rebuild the country’s system of agricultural high schools. We’re also developing a nationwide high school curriculum in agriculture and a teacher training program. Moreover, Mercy Corps is helping refugees rebuild agricultural livelihoods once they return home. Where returnees lack land or livelihood, we provide vocational skills training and direct market linkages to expand job opportunities.

Ancient means of support, like agriculture, can benefit from 21st-century technologies. We’re working with an Afghan telecommunications company to deliver information about prices, market opportunities and best practices via mobile phone text messages, so farmers can make more informed business decisions.