Empowering women to enhance agricultural productivity

Meeting women farmers to establish a women-led VBSE in Parwan Province

Village-based Seed Enterprises (VBSEs) are a means for women — often marginalized in rural farming communities — to contribute to their communities, take on leadership roles, learn about improved agricultural methods, and perhaps most importantly, feel the satisfaction of empowerment.

While women make up over half of the agricultural workforce in Afghanistan, they are nevertheless marginalized by the confines of the deeply patriarchal cultural system. These strictures make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to gain access to land, credit, or other opportunities. As one of those agricultural domains, seed production is considered a male role, thus exacerbating the persistent and concerning gap between the demand and supply of improved seed varieties in Afghanistan.

Recognizing the missed opportunity in potential income, increased productivity, and food security, ICARDA and the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), launched VBSE development programs to engage women in farming activities and improve the cultivation of certified seeds. 

The initiative included capacity-building programs, engaging both men and women, and training in business administration and management as well as the day-to-day production aspects of seed production, including cleaning, chemical treatments, labeling and storage, and quality testing. Training also included courses on land preparation, optimal planting dates, seeding rates, fertilizer application, pest and disease management, irrigation, and seed certification and marketing.

Machinery — and training on it — was also provided to ensure successful seed production and included tractors, threshers, seed processing units, and seed drills. The program has been a success: by using the same resources, certified seed production by women-led VBSEs increased by 50% compared to men-led VBSEs in 2016.