Dairy farmers in rural Afghanistan are modernizing their operations and boosting their incomes thanks to new unions supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). These unions are also having a significant social impact: mitigating civil conflict and empowering women.
Nearly 80 percent of the population relies on agriculture as their primary source of income, yet this sector has been drastically destabilized by decades of civil conflict, drought, and little investment in agricultural development. Notably, the poorest rural dwellers in Afghanistan are independent farmers and women-headed households. In fact, women are responsible for most of the agricultural production in the country.
In response to Afghanistan’s agricultural and civil crisis, the Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support Programme has helped initiate 14 dairy cooperatives, support groups formed by regional communities, under the umbrella of the Khatiz Dairy Union in the eastern province of Nangahar. These unions represent about 14,000 members. Several of the cooperatives include a high number of women members.
For US$1 each month, union members receive farm management training to promote efficiency and income growth. The union sends female trainers throughout the area to facilitate classes teaching best practices to improve milk yields, such as using hygienic production processes.
“Economically, women have gained a better position among their families and community and on a social level,” says Sharifa Sarwar, one of the female trainers. “When they sell the milk, they get the income because they do all the work. Socially, they are also empowered. Before, they were not allowed to leave their homes, but now they can easily walk around.”
One of the program’s latest projects includes funding the construction of a new milk processing plant; this plant has the potential to process twice the amount of milk as the current Kabul plant.
The aim of this program goes beyond increasing food security and promoting economic independence for farmers; it also strives to mitigate conflict. “If you create jobs, if they have jobs and earn money, there is no need for fighting,” says Asadullah Battar, an IFAD ambassador working with the program.