USDA workshop teaches business techniques to Afghan farmers
June 12, 2013
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Local farmers, farmers' representatives and government officials from Parwan district arrived at Bagram Air Field to participate in a workshop on produce productivity and meet with the representative of the United States Department of Agriculture, Regional Command-East, Afghanistan.
The workshop is part of an ongoing effort by the USDA to promote new ideas in production, marketing and business methods to the farmers, explained Pradeep Patnaik, deputy senior agriculture representative, RC-East.
Agriculture is the main source of income for the Afghan economy. Eighty percent of Afghanistan's population is involved in farming, herding or both.
"These people are the backbone of Afghanistan: not the government, not the military, but the people you see here today." said Abdulshokor Qudusi, sub-governor, Parwan province. "With over 80 percent of the population being farmers and over 40,000 hectares (nearly 100,000 acres) of land being farmed in the Parwan District, these are import issues and that is why we are here."
The farmers who attended the workshop are representatives for over 500 farming families in Parwan, said Qudusi.
The USDA is helping Afghanistan revitalize its agricultural sector through a variety of activities aimed to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government, rebuild agricultural markets, and improve management of natural resources.
We are training them how to better use their irrigation, how to prune the trees, how to plant and store water more efficiently, but that is only one part of it, explained Patnaik.
The purpose of this workshop dealt with the business side of farming.
"Here we are trying to teach them that farming is a business and how to make money by operating in a more efficient way," said Patnaik. "We are helping them to improve their livelihood."
According to the USDA's website, the USDA has provided roughly $229 million in food aid to Afghanistan since 2003.
"Last year, Afghanistan imported $1.6 billion (worth) of food including fresh vegetables and fruits." said Patniak "Unless you can sell the product ... that is not good farming that is good growing, at the end of the day they must sell their products."
Patniak believes that Afghanistan has the potential to export more and more food by using modern techniques in processing foods.
Afghanistan produces some of the best apricots, apples and grapes ... they still have to learn how to commercialize farming, said Patniak.
Traditionally many (Afghan) farmers only grow what they need to use for themselves and their families, so whatever was left over they would sell in the local market, but things are changing, said Patniak.
As an example, Patniak explained, is that if you grow apples you don't just have to sell apples, you can learn ways to make juice, applesauce or dried apples.
"We want them to start thinking like businessmen, said Patniak."
Not only were the USDA representative at the workshop, but members of the U.S. Agency for International Development were on hand to explain many of the opportunities that can benefit the farmers.
In July 2010, the USAID awarded a $100 million grant to Afghanistan's Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock to establish the Agricultural Development Fund, which provides credit to small commercial farmers and agribusinesses.
"There are programs out there to help," said Patnaik. "You just have to work for it."
The grant also launched a technical assistance effort under a $50 million Agricultural Credit Enhancement project. This project manages ADF lending and supports the agricultural sector, especially those areas engaged in the production, processing and export of high-value crops.
Although there is help in the form of government and grant assistance, the farmers still face many challenges.
The farmers also took this time to address other issues such as pollution, poor irrigation and crop diseases as contributing factors in poor production, as well as using old ways of farming.
"With limited or no machinery the farmers have to use their hands, so production is not that much." said Abdulkabir Farzam, director, Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. "Most of the farms have a lot of land, but they cannot take full advantage of it."
Not all the farmers focused on the limitations, some looked to a positive future of Afghanistan's agricultural progression.
Farmers like Abdul Mahfouz, a representative for nearly 60 fruit growers in Parwan, understand the importance of workshops like this, and what it means to the future of Afghanistan.
We are here to learn new ways like planning, marketing and production ... to jump ahead and be successful, said Mahfouz, we have never tried to be successful before.
Although Mahfouz, a former Afghan National Army officer, has been farming for only five years, he comes from a very long line of farmers.
"My family has been farming since the beginning of time," said Mahfouz with a smile. "Learning new ways is difficult, but there is no progress without education. As the new ideas begin to take hold and progress continues to move forward in Afghanistan, the future of farming in Afghanistan will definitely move forward, adding to the security of the nation."