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February 26, 2019

Supporting Sustainable Agriculture in Afghanistan

photoFarmers work on an irrigation project. Photo by Peace (Japan) Medical Services

Afghanistan is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history. In Afghanistan, where farmers make up about 80 percent of the population, agricultural stability is national stability. With the drought expected to be drawn out because of climate change and other factors, JICA is continuing its support of both hard infrastructure such as irrigation and soft infrastructure such as promoting rice growing and building the country's capacity for policymaking, to build a foundation to allow agriculture to continue.

If they could continue farming, they would rather not fight

" Some farmers join antigovernment forces to feed their families often because of falling agricultural incomes due to droughts. No one would want to fight in a war if they could continue farming," said JICA Senior Advisor Kenji Nagata.

photoA worksite of the irrigation project

Since the Taliban government collapsed in 2001, the international community has been providing various kinds of reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan, but it cannot be said that farmers' lives have improved sufficiently.

An important key to reconstructing Afghanistan is to develop basic infrastructure for sustainable agriculture. From 2014 to 2017, Mr. Nagata served as water resources development and management adviser at Afghanistan's Ministry of Energy and Water. Currently he's engaged in disseminating throughout Afghanistan the PMS irrigation method, which was applied in the irrigation projects that JICA and the international NGO Peace (Japan) Medical Services (PMS) have been carrying out together. PMS is active in the field of medicine and agriculture in Afghanistan.

PMS is the Afghanistan NGO headed by medical doctor Tetsu Nakamura and supported by Japanese NGO Peshawar-kai. It has been carrying out the irrigation project since 2003 in eastern Afghanistan using stone and tree-planting techniques suitable to the local area. Farmers carry out the construction, and maintain and manage the irrigation facilities themselves, which will lead to increased employment for repatriated refugees and for soldiers who have been reintegrated into society.

In the area where the PMS irrigation project was implemented, so far it has rehabilitated more than 16,000 hectares into farmland. A farmer who responded to a questionnaire on the project said that compared to before it was carried out, more irrigation water is available, allowing him to irrigate twice a year, and his income has increased.

photoThe Gamberi Desert (top, before 2005) in Eastern Afghanistan became green land (bottom, 2015) with the completion of an irrigation canal. Photo by Peace (Japan) Medical Services

photoAn irrigation canal built in the Gamberi Desert. Photo by Peace (Japan) Medical Services

High hopes for Japan’s reconstruction assistance

JICA has been supporting PMS' irrigation projects since 2010. For its support for Afghanistan, where work in the field is limited by the security situation, a partnership with an NGO that has worked there for many years and is well-versed in the local situation is essential.

photoA Cabinet-level meeting of countries supporting Afghanistan held at the United Nations Office at Geneva in Switzerland

At the Geneva Ministrial Conference on Afghanistan in November 2018, Minister of Finance Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi pointed out that the majority of projects to assist Afghanistan have been led by foreign aid agencies and in some cases their work has not been sustained after the project completed. Taking this into consideration, "The example of PMS, which made use of local technology, is quite meaningful," he said.

"It's important to work on development from a long-term point of view to strengthen Afghanistan's capacity to cope with droughts while supporting the leadership of the Afghan government," said JICA Vice President Junichi Yamada, who participated in the meeting.

Doubling productivity by improving rice-cultivation techniques

JICA is implementing a project to improve rice-cultivation techniques in regions with relatively little drought damage. In Afghanistan, rice is the second most important staple crop next to wheat. "Afghanistan has been involved in wars for a long time, its agricultural infrastructure, including irrigation facilities, are damaged, it has no rice experts and it is behind in disseminating improved rice cultivation techniques," said JICA Expert Masataka Nakahara, who has been engaged in reconstruction and development assistance since 2005 and in agriculture projects since 2014.

photoFarmers transplant rice in Takhar Province in northern Afghanistan, where the project "Rice-based Agriculture Development in Afghanistan" is being implemented.

With the government's limited capacity to help rice production farmers, JICA started a project of improving rice-based agriculture in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan in 2007. Based on the encouraging results of that project, JICA further extended its capacity building to improve rice productivity and quality for agricultural extension officers, researchers and farmers through the project "Rice-based Agriculture Development in Afghanistan," which began in 2011 targeting eight provinces.

As a result, from 2014 to 2017, the average rice yields of some 2,500 demonstration farmers were 6.3 tons per hectare (paddy), almost double the amount produced by conventional techniques.

photoReturned PEACE training participants who will help build the future of Afghanistan

Now the project is aiming to support improved seed production, post-harvest processing technology and improved quality. The long-term JICA training project "Project for the Promotion and Enhancement of the Afghan Capacity for Effective Development (PEACE)" aims to train human resources responsible for the development of Afghanistan. Through PEACE, participants learn about agricultural economics and rice-growing techniques at Japanese universities. JICA also works with the participants after they return to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, where authority is concentrated in the central government, local needs are often not reflected in government policies. That's why JICA created a mechanism for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and local farm bureaus to share information on local issues and aim for solutions, and is providing support through a project to enhance their organizations so that this will lead to effective policies.


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