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Supporting Afghanistan Women in Agriculture

By Susan Mwape

AFGHANISTAN’S dry lands are slowly turning greener for many families living in conflicts zones with the introduction of kitchen gardens – a concept aimed at enhancing nutrition and small-holder farming.

The University of Maryland has over the past 5 years been engaged in a program aimed at building technical and teaching capacity to the Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. The program dubbed “Afghanistan Agriculture Extension Project” is led by a consortium of five Universities based in the United States of America.

The project targets 27 provinces and 193 districts of Afghanistan with the aim is to delivering effective and sustainable extension services to Afghan farmers. The project seeks to improve rural household food security and enhance agriculture-based income generation, improve nutritional status of target rural households and enhance support for women in the agricultural sector.  AAEP activities are implemented in partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture, local researchers, farmers, and suppliers among other group.
Taryn Devereux from the University of Maryland, who is the AAEP Program Coordinator, spoke at the INGENAES Global Symposium about lessons learnt on financial management and project implementation from the women’s program. She highlighted how AAEP facilitates workgroups composed of farmers and extension worked to identify farming problems and training needs.
The agriculture extension program targets women and focusses on improving household nutrition diets and livelihood opportunities by developing Kitchen gardens.
While the program has been designed in such a way that employees are women, a few men have been co-opted into the project. Efforts are made to create some ‘women only’ spaces that help to enhance the employee’s family confidence.
Adhering to the country’s cultural norms comes at a cost, for instance; women are not allowed to travel alone and there are also a number of restrictions when they move with a man that they are not married to. To address this - an additional woman is employed, she plays the role of chaperone known as Maharam. This essentially doubles the costs of transport and other logistics.
Development work in Afghanistan is a constant challenge as the safety of local and international expert is a priority at all times – as a conflict zone there is always a sense of instability. The project has over years faced some challenges with the soil quality and mostly water as most of the country is arid.

Following Devereux’s presentation, robust discussions ensued. Participants felt the project was a worthwhile project but wondered how the AAEP was able to identify farmers especially since women do not own land. There were also a lot of interest expressed in understanding the recruitment process owing to limitations in movements of women in Afghanistan. 

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