Natural resource management

Most Afghan communities and particularly those in rural and hard-to-reach parts of the country depend on agriculture and livestock for their food and income. Having a sufficient, nutritious, sustainable, and year-round supply of food depends on proper natural resource management (NRM) and environmental protection. In 2020, the pandemic caused borders to close, agricultural inputs to become scarce, and food prices to increase. Despite these challenges, income levels and food security improved in NAC partner communities thanks to our varied and complementary initiatives in food security, NRM, and disaster risk reduction (DRR).

The impacts of good natural resource management lead to positive results in other fields as well. The sustainable management of pastures contributes to food security. Reforestation and water management can greatly reduce the risk of natural hazards.

Improving food security means giving people access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, either by improving the food sources that exist already or by introducing new methods of attaining food. NAC does both. Communities receive help to maintain and regulate pastures and rangelands. These are essential for domestic animals but are frequently overgrazed. Good maintenance ensures that future generations will be able to keep animals grazing. NAC trains farmers on the best techniques to grow the crops they already know, such as wheat and potatoes, and gives rural communities advice and seeds to plant kitchen gardens with nutritious vegetables, both familiar and new.

Natural disasters are frequent in Afghanistan, particularly in the mountain regions. Mountainsides that are clad with forest are less prone to disasters such as floods, mudslides or avalanches. Unfortunately, the forest has been decimated in many places, due to the overharvesting of wood and to create new pastures for livestock. This increases the risk of disasters in rural communities. NAC’s reforestation program helps people plant trees in their environs to directly reduce disaster risk, but also to raise communities’ awareness of the risks of deforestation.

Managing the flow of water down mountainsides is another key factor for disaster risk reduction. Irrigation and water management systems can both reduce the risk of floods and mudslides and make water available for cultivation, – which again supports food security.

Food on the table

Most of NAC’s work on natural resource management is intimately linked to food security, and vice versa. By improving pasturelands and using them sustainably farmers increase their food security. And growing vegetables at home can ease the strain on vulnerable pastures and provide a more varied diet.

NAC teaches community members the best techniques to grow fruit and vegetables in their farms and in their homes and has also conducted experiments to introduce new varieties of wheat and new breeds of potato. Last but not least, NAC enables farmers to grow fodder for their domestic animals, allowing them to keep the animals over winter, rather than selling them for a low price when they are leaner and of less market value in the wintertime.

To address food insecurity in our partner communities, NAC provided long-term agricultural extension programs and emergency food distributions to more than 10,000 households, with more than 90,000 household members. To support long-term, sustainable food security, we continued our seed and fertilizer distributions and infrastructure development programs (e.g., irrigation and flood control systems to improve yields), while the NAC Lead Farmer Program boosted agricultural productivity, increased food security, and improved rural livelihoods. A total of 87% of male and 95% of female farmers reported that their yields had increased due to NAC’s interventions

Kitchen gardens

Women in rural Afghanistan have limited possibilities to work outside their homes, but growing vegetables within their own gardens enables them to contribute towards their families’ food security. The women that NAC supports attend a training and receive seeds from NAC staff. Shortly afterwards, the green sprouts of onion, cucumber, leek, radish, coriander, turnip, cabbage, spinach, okra, eggplant, lettuce and tomato plants pop up in their gardens.

Since production usually exceeds immediate household needs, women are also trained on vegetable processing and pickling, so that they and their families have access to the nutritious vegetables during winter as well. Some of the fresh and processed vegetables also find their way to local markets, bringing much needed income.

Aside from contributing towards improving household economies – which also helps elevate the status of women within their families – the vegetables have helped reduce children’s micronutrient deficiencies.

Fodder and vaccination for animals

For most pastoralist families, losing animals means losing their main source of food and money. Yet, few animals get vaccinated for common diseases. In addition, many animals don’t survive the winter because the farmers can’t produce or harvest fodder for them and don’t have suitable stables.

NAC distributes seeds for a highly nutritious variety of alfalfa to farmers, who are also trained to collect and store seeds. To ensure improved animal health, Community Development Councils in Ghazni province did an awareness raising campaign on livestock vaccination. In 2014 alone, 16,371 cattle, sheep and goats were vaccinated throughout the province. Since the beginning of NAC’s Integrated Rural Development II programme in 2013, the number of farmers losing livestock has been halved.

Higher yields in horticulture

NAC agricultural extension programs boost agricultural productivity, increase food security, improve rural livelihoods, and promote agriculture as an engine of economic growth. Communities were helped to maintain and regulate pastures and rangelands, which contribute to long-term food security and are essential for domestic animals but are frequently overgrazed. We supported farmers to grow fodder to feed their livestock, obviating the need to sell their animals during the winter, when they generally lose weight and market value. To develop more sustainable NRM, NAC-supported communities also learn about climate change and its impacts and mitigation measures.

In remote areas of Badakhshan, farmers continue to use low-yielding varieties of potatoes and cultivation patterns that reduce productivity. Likewise, high-value fruit trees such as apples, pears, almonds and pistachios are often cultivated without productive and sustainable orchard management practices.

To promote new and sustainable technologies in the cultivation and management of fruit farms, NAC provides fruit tree saplings to farmers in Badakhshan and Ghazni, for them to establish demonstration orchards on their farms. These serve as learning centres for other farmers, who already have, or plan to establish orchards. NAC staff provide technical guidance to the demonstration farmers on farm layout, fertilisation and other practices. NAC is also working with large scale potato farmers in Badakhshan, aiming to develop local sources of potato seeds, which will be distributed to other farmers in the province.

In both potato production and orchard establishment, the sustainable practice of integrated pest management is highly emphasised, together with composting and other indigenous methods of producing fertilisers.

The multiple benefits of irrigation

Water is both a necessary resource and a potential hazard. Irrigation systems make agriculture possible where it wasn’t before, reduce the risk of mudslides and can also improve access to clean water in villages.

NAC has been implementing a variety of environmental programs since 1993. Many of them have been related to community forestry and have included demonstration farms, watersheds and plant nurseries. These infrastructure projects promote and enable reforestation and increase farmers’ capacity to provide for their families.

Irrigation for agriculture and natural resource management

NAC provides advice and training to assist farmers and communities in renewing, improving or maintaining irrigation facilities and overall water management. Not only does this initiative make agriculture possible where it wasn’t before and reduce the risk of mudslides, but it can also improve access to clean water for households in their villages.

Severe and sustained droughts have been more common in Afghanistan in recent years. This has brought difficulties both for the cultivation of crops and handling of livestock. Land and water-related conflicts have long been common and are a growing problem. NAC therefore conducts conflict analysis while working with water and land resources.

Sustainability in infrastructure projects

Sustainability is a key word in all NAC projects, not least when it comes to infrastructure. All NAC infrastructure projects are built from local materials, with local labour. Not only does this mean that NAC supported communities contribute towards developing and maintaining their own infrastructure projects – promoting ownership -, but they are also be able to help neighbouring communities with similar projects. NAC helps communities organise themselves to take care of their own infrastructure, e.g. a parent-teacher association will maintain and run a local school. In other cases, management of infrastructure is handed over to relevant Afghan government bodies.