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Farming women can revive agricultureWritten by TKG's Mursal Magazine
Saturday, 28 May 2011 08:48
Afghanistan has an agrarian economy and latest estimates suggest that agriculture is the main source of livelihood for over 70 percent of the Afghan population. Little has been said about women's pivotal role in this sector and agriculture development policies have often overlooked their part.
Although no credible census about farming women is available, it has been estimated that tens of thousands of women are involved in agricultural activities across the country.
Officials in the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) say a project funded and implemented by an Indian NGO, Suwa, trained 1,500 women on farming, production and processing skills. "30 women were sent to India for extensive trainings and upon their return they have worked as trainers," said Karima Salik, an official at the MoWA in Kabul. "The agriculture training programme is also very useful for those women who do not work in the offices but can utilize their potentials in cultivating vegetables and flowers and thus improve their economic conditions," she said.
Shahida is a young widow in Kabul who has received trainings on how to cultivate vegetable: "I can support my family by selling vegetables." Over the past three decades of conflict, tens of thousands of women have lost their husbands - usually the main breadwinners of households - and face hardships in supporting their children.
Another woman, Jamila, who was also a beneficiary of the Suwa project, said she was using vegetables to produce pickles. "I sell my products in the Sharara Garden," she said referring to a park in Kabul city which is designated for females.
"I grow tomato, onion, potato, carrot, cucumber and other vegetables and then sell them in the local market," said Zarghuna, a young female farmer in Parwan Province, adding that she was earning up to 700 Afghanis (US$15) a day - far better than a male wage labourer who earns about 500 Afghans a day.
The Trader Women's Council (TWC), a non-government body, said it was supporting farming women to make most out of their farming activities. "We have projects which encourage farming women to enhance the quality and quantity of their products, produce food items such as pickles, tomato sauce etc," said Mahbooba Waizi, TWC's director.
Women and counternarcotics
Afghanistan is the world's top opium producing country in the world for over a decade, according to the United Nations Office for Drug and Crimes (UNODC). Opium produced in Afghanistan is processed into heroin and then smuggled abroad. The illicit narcotics trade is a multi-billion dollar sophisticated enterprise which feed Taliban insurgency, corruption and criminality in Afghanistan, according to UNODC.
Officials in MoWA and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) said that efforts were underway to promote the cultivation of saffron and other cash crops among farming women as an alternative to poppy. Saffron cultivation projects have already been implemented in several districts in the eastern Nangarhar Province where poppy was cultivated in the past. Farmers cultivate saffron bulbs in late August and reap the purple flowers in mid October. The red filaments of saffron - the aromatic thread-like substances globally used for a variety of purposes, including herbal medicine, colour dyes, perfume and food seasoning - are then collected from each flower by hand, often by women at home. One hectare of land can produce about 12kg of saffron and each kilogram fetches US$1,500 in Afghan bazaars, according to agriculture experts.
The benefits of technology
In some parts of the southeastern Khost Province women have always been engaged in onerous works such as ploughing fields, collecting firewood and raising livestock while men do other, mostly lighter, activities. Tractors (to plough long fields), power generators and water-pumps (to irrigate lands), and threshers (to process grain harvests) have not only eased the burden of work on farming women but have also contributed to an overall increase in agricultural productions. In Kabul, NGOs and other support bodies such as the TWC are using technology and innovative methods to help faming women improve the quality of their products and provide marketing facilities.
Agriculture products from the Badambagh agriculture facility, in north of Kabul city, are processed and packaged in several work units managed by women and supported by the TWC. "The final products are offered to markets," said Waizi, TWC's director.
MAIL officials, meanwhile, said that new training programmes for women on chicken farming, flower nursery and fruits and vegetables production were being implemented in some parts of the country. "With the help of NGOs we trained 950 women who now offer high quality products to markets," said Abdul Sataar Ashha, a MAIL official in Nangarhar Province.
In Bamyan Province, a cooperative unit has been established to provide market support services for farming women. Through the unit, officials said, women sell their agriculture products on reasonable prices.