Cereal crops and food legumes are grown on ninety percent of Afghanistan’s cultivated land. However, the country faces a serious food deficit. To address the issue of food security, a project was implemented through farmer-participatory demonstrations that improved food availability through a systems approach including capacity development, research, and technology transfer.
As Afghanistan emerges from decades of instability that had a huge impact on agricultural productivity, rebuilding food security is vitally important. The country suffers from an average yearly cereal deficit of around 250,000-500,000 tonnes. There has been a 30 percent increase in the price of chickpeas from2007-2011.
ICARDA and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) received financial support from the Netherlands government to commence a three-year project (2009-2012) to increase food supplies and improve the livelihoods of farmers. The overall objective of the project was to support the efforts of MAIL to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty by facilitating the introduction of new and improved varieties and enhanced technologies to farmers.
For this, researchers adopted a three-layered fast-track approach of: (1) evaluating and introducing improved varieties; (2) raising awareness and encouraging the adoption of improved varieties through farmer-participatory demonstrations; and (3) reintroducing improved varieties using a ‘flush-through’ approach to maintain the purity of varieties and to ensure uninterrupted availability of pure (certified) seeds.
Uruzgon province in south central Afghanistan was the main target area for the project. The research was also duplicated in other provinces (Balkh, Baghlan, Herat and Nangarahar) using a mirror approach to ensure the continuity and collection of useful data even if the project was affected at some sites due to security risks.
The fast-track, adaptive research approach used by this project allowed semi-finished, advanced material from the breeding programs of ICARDA and other CGIAR and international centers to be evaluated and introduced. Improved varieties were released within three to four years, as compared to the traditional process of 9-11 years.
A total of 1696 genotypes (lines and varieties) were tested during 2009–2012 and 335 were potentially worthy of detailed evaluation. During the project period, five wheat lines (2 irrigated wheat lines and 3 rain-fed varieties), two barley lines, and two chickpea lines were identified for release as new, improved varieties.
Variety release proposal documents for these lines were submitted to the National Variety Release Committee. A total of 74 wheat lines, 226 chickpea genotypes, and 35 barley lines were also selected for further evaluation.
Transfer of technology through participatory demonstrations
In order to enhance the adoption of new, improved varieties, the project implemented a farmer-participatory approach to demonstrate the usefulness and economic benefits of improved varieties of wheat, rice, chickpea and mung bean.
A total of 288 farmer-participatory demonstrations of improved varieties of the four target crops were held in Uruzgon province, and 124 demonstrations (45 chickpea and 79 mung bean) in Baghlan and Mazar provinces. An average of 25.5 percent yield increase was obtained over local varieties. Improved varieties of wheat, rice and mung bean exhibited an average of 0.98 t/ha (29 percent), 1.04 t/ha (16 percent) and 0.3 t/ha (32 percent) higher yields over traditionally grown varieties, respectively. Chickpea was a new introduction in Uruzgon by the project, so no yield change could be estimated.
Promoting Village-Based Seed Enterprises (VBSEs)
Village-Based Seed Enterprises (VBSEs) were launched in two districts of Uruzgon, which previously had no formal access to certified and good quality seed produced in other parts of the country. This greatly increased access to quality seed of wheat, rice, chickpea, and mung bean.
During 2010–2012, the two VBSEs produced 136 tonnes of certified seed, comprising 41.66 tonnes of wheat, 65.92 tonnes of rice, 7.5 tonnes of chickpea and 21.06 tonnes of mung bean. The quantity of seed produced in 2012 was four times higher than 2011.
Encouraging Herbal Remedies Producers' Associations
Two Herbal Remedies Producers' Associations were established, which produced 11,062 units of herbal products during 2010–2012. Dry mint, mint distillate, mint oil, cumin oil and cumin distillate were produced and marketed in Uruzgon and beyond. This resulted in a net benefit of US$4840.
Assisting in capacity development activities
In order to strengthen the capacity of MAIL and university staff, 71 researchers and policy-makers were trained abroad through 28 training events covering various aspects of cereal and legume cultivation. The trainees participated in various symposia, meetings, and workshops.
A total of 2446 farmers, students, and members of seed associations and herbal remedies associations were trained through in-country training events and field days for both men and women. Three radio programs and one radio commercial were produced in local languages (Pashto and Dari) and broadcast through private and Government-owned radio stations in Uruzgon and other provinces. These are expected to disseminate the project activities to an estimated seven million people, nationwide.
Additionally, three best-practice guides prepared in local languages were published and 15,000 copies were distributed to MAIL staff in provinces, extension workers, universities, through national and international NGOs, and to the farmers in five provinces.
Along with the local capacity development, the project interventions are expected to alleviate food insecurity and generate an estimated benefit of US$14.78 million in the target provinces by the end of 2017-2018.