COLLEGE STATION — Over the past two years, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, has been working with other U.S. land-grant universities to help improve the lives and livelihoods of farmers in Afghanistan.
Through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project-II, a three-year $19.8 million project that runs through September 2017, the institutions are collaborating on an agricultural Extension program to deliver knowledge and technical assistance at a grassroots level.
According to USAID, the project’s primary objectives include helping agricultural Extension workers transfer useful information and technology to farmers, improving rural household food security and income generation, improving nutrition for farm households and enhancing agricultural services for women working in the agricultural sector.
The project, led by the University of California-Davis, includes Texas A&M, Washington State University, Purdue University and the University of Maryland.
The universities are working in conjunction with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and its provincial directorates to help deliver agricultural knowledge and technical assistance to those in rural communities, according to Dr. Tim Davis, Borlaug Institute regional director for Asia who oversees project activities by Texas A&M.
“A large part of this project is its train-the-trainer efforts in which we provide Extension workers from the ministry and its regional directorates, lead farmers, community and field farm school leaders, university professors, students and others with training on a variety of topics,” Davis said. “These people, in turn, share that information directly with the farmers.”
Davis, who recently visited project sites in Afghanistan with Borlaug Institute director Dr. Elsa Murano, College Station, said the project impacts 27 provinces and 192 districts in Afghanistan, and has already trained participants from each of those provinces and districts. There are now workgroups in 11 districts, as well as train-the-trainer workshops in 44 districts. To date, 10,575 people have received training, including 2,372 women.
“Afghanistan is a country with great potential for agricultural production,” Murano said. “From grapes to apples to potatoes to sorghum to corn to goats, they can produce it all. There are great obstacles to progress, however, including a lack of transportation infrastructure as well as security issues. However, Afghan farmers are determined and grateful, very appreciative of what we are doing to help them, and willing to work hard to pursue a decent life for themselves and their families.”
Another major component of the project is the establishment of provincial model teaching farms.
“This includes providing small grants for farmers who agree to replicate good agricultural practices on their farms so other farmers can learn from them,” Davis said. “These model farms give farmers hands-on experience and firsthand knowledge of best agricultural techniques and practices. They can see technology that is new – or at least new to them – and learn about agricultural best management practices that can be applied to their own agricultural operation.”
Davis said the project is helping Afghan farmers become more productive by teaching them how to integrate more efficient agricultural systems into their farming practices.
“There’s a lot of potential there, but there are also a lot of challenges,” he said. “Using this collaborative approach, there’s also a lot we can do to help the Afghan people strengthen their agricultural sector.”
Davis said the project is a good fit for the Borlaug Institute, as its expertise is designing and implementing science-based development projects and training programs to help small agricultural communities in developing countries overcome hunger and poverty.
The focus of the Texas A&M team is on livestock, while the University of California-Davis specializes on horticultural crops. Washington State University leads efforts in Nangarhar Province with emphasis on agronomic crops. Purdue University leads efforts in Herat Province with emphasis on reducing postharvest losses, particularly in grain and horticultural products. The University of Maryland focuses on improving the involvement of women in agriculture.
Texas A&M’s primary role is to provide information and technology that can help improve the production of livestock, Davis said.
“This includes a diverse array of commodities that fall under the category of livestock in Afghanistan including dairy, goats, poultry, forage crops, bees for pollination and silkworms,” he explained.
He said capacity is being built through a variety of activities including technical training, training of trainers, creation of educational materials,
development of provincial model teaching farms, farmer field schools, development of working groups and mini-grants.
According to USAID, to-date project accomplishments include improved access to agricultural techniques for Afghan farmers, increased adoption of improved agricultural practices by farmers, increased horticultural sales, better access to vegetables and diet diversity for rural poor, improved involvement of women in ensuring livestock health and production, improved farmer technical knowledge on agricultural production and reduced postharvest losses.
“We are so very proud to be a part of this project, funded by the American people, to help lend a hand to the people of Afghanistan who so desperately need it,” Murano said. “I cannot think of a better example of selfless service than this project. Through agriculture, we are giving them the tools to realize a better life — not only for themselves, but as importantly, for their children.”
For more information on the Borlaug Institute, go to: http://borlaug.tamu.edu.
[via AgriLife Today]