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Tough road but big returns: working with Afghan women

Apr 15,2015

The biggest challenge of working with women in traditional societies is how to contact women and bring them to participate in activities
The past couple of decades of war and instability in Afghanistan have devastated its once thriving agriculture sector. A fall-out has been the hardship faced by women in the country. As men left home over the years to go to war and in more recent years, seeking employment in services, women have been left behind in villages alone to take care of the household and the land.
 
As a result, agriculture and livestock-raising has seen an increasing role from women. They have become key to agriculture development and rebuilding of the country. 
 
The Dairy Goat Management Project, a flagship initiative of ICARDA to improve the livelihoods of women, is coming to an end this year after a journey of six years, with some remarkable outcomes. Yashpal Saharawat, the Afghanistan country manager, shares some insights on the challenges and rewards of working with women in Afghanistan. 
 
“The biggest challenge of working with women in traditional societies is how to contact women and bring them to participate in activities. Establishing the trust has perhaps been a key enabler for success”, reflects Saharawat. “At ICARDA, we are fortunate to have built a deep trust with the local authorities and village heads through our continued presence and partnership activities over the past 13 years. We talk to village heads who introduce us to open-minded farmers, who then can put us in touch with the women of households”, he explains.  
 
The project combined research and development activities for target groups of rural women, providing them with technologies on improving goat and forage production. A major focus was building their capacity on animal health and value addition to milk and dairy products. Special cooperatives were developed to provide eco-friendly infrastructure, while the Ministry of Agriculture supported the value chain by opening a counter within the ministry where women can come and sell their products. 
 
For fodder crop improvement, the project trained graduate women on producing quality seeds. Establishing women-based village seed enterprise allows village women to market improved seeds, while women-based fodder banks ensure availability of fodder during long, harsh winters when scarcity of fodder develops and sometimes, animals even die of starvation from hunger.  
 
All these activities for women groups were led by women staff across 26 villages in Baghlan and Nangarhar Provinces. 
 
Sawoor, a widow in Malang village, was one of the beneficiaries who received two goats as start-up under the project’s Pass-on-the-Gift scheme. “I was working in the fields as laborer and was very poor before the project. I now have five goats and two kids that provide fresh milk for my family. I produce yoghurt from the extra milk and sell it to the shopkeeper in my village. I earn 4,000-5,000 Afghani per month and can now send my children to school.”
 
Saharawat summarizes the impacts in a nutshell: “It’s the gained economic stability. If we were to ask our women beneficiaries, what change are they most happy about, they would probably all say, they now have money in their hands to spend and are able to educate and provide for their children of their will”.      
 
Women like Sawoor have now become role models in their villages and encourage other women to participate in the initiative. The project is also scaling out the technologies and the model by developing the capacity of NGOs active in the region, like MADERA, Action Aid, Aga Khan and Care.