Afghans off-load wheat seed rom a truck upon delivery to Qalat City, Zabul province, Afghanistan, Nov. 25. The seed is being delivered to supply farmers for the winter planting season, part of the National Seed Distribution Program. The seed will benefit 260,000 farmers in 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Released)
Afghans off-load wheat seed from a truck upon delivery to Qalat City, Zabul province, Afghanistan, Nov. 25. The seed is being delivered to supply farmers for the winter planting season, part of the National Seed Distribution Program. The seed will benefit 260,000 farmers in 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Released)
by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul
11/30/2010 - Qalat, Zabul Province, Afghanistan -- In Afghanistan, agriculture is the primary industry, and wheat is the staple food. It accounts for over half the caloric intake of the population, and covers roughly 70 percent of the cultivated land.
However, in some years, imports from surrounding countries have been required in order for Afghanistan to meet its need for wheat.
According to a May 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2008 Afghanistan's food supply network was hampered due to a severe drought, which caused a 55 percent drop in wheat production from the previous year.
To help combat future shortfalls and increase domestic supply, the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock has assumed the lead role of a National Seed Distribution Program for the upcoming winter planting season.
"Since 2008, the United States Agency for International Development has distributed wheat seed and fertilizer vouchers to farmers in 18 provinces through a program called the Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Production in Agriculture, or AVIPA," said Andrew Manhart, USAID field program officer for Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul.
"Through the National Seed Distribution Program, MAIL has contracted to purchase 18,000 metric tons of certified winter wheat seed grown in surplus producing Afghan provinces, and 39,000 tons of fertilizer. The subsidized distribution benefits 260,000 farmers in 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces," he said.
Through an existing national program, USAID, along with several international donors, is providing funding and technical assistance to MAIL in this effort.
"As a food security program, the National Seed Distribution Program is intended to enhance the effectiveness in distributing seed to wheat producing regions throughout Afghanistan, thereby contributing to increased domestic wheat production," said Mr. Manhart.
In order for a farmer to qualify to participate in the program, he must have adequate irrigated land, show he did not receive seed last year, be able to buy the seed package with the fixed price and co-pay of ~1800 Afghanis and agree not to convert pastureland to wheat cultivation. Moreover, he must be willing to accept guidance and technical advice from MAIL extension workers, guarantee that he will use the entire package (eg, not mix it with other seeds, shares with neighbor, etc.) and be willing to exchange improved seed from harvest with neighbors and community.
According to the MAIL, the selection of districts in each province is done by the representative elected provincial council, all under the supervision of the MAIL provincial director. Security, accessibility and productivity are key criteria for selecting the districts.
In Zabul Province, four districts and one sub-district were selected; Qalat, Shajoy, Tarnak Wa Jaldak, Shinkay and Surri, a sub-district in Shinkay.
MAIL has sent a representative to each district to ensure the program is running to standards through the harvest.
"This is tremendous change from last year to this year," said Dawood, project coordinator for International Relief Development. "We were unable to distribute seed in Qalat city last year and now we are helping distribute in Qalat, as well as four other districts."
Christoph Greco, USDA agriculture adviser in Zabul Province said that the Provincial Reconstruction Team here has been the primary wheat seed provider in the province, but the National Seed Distribution Program has changed that fact.
"What's great about this program is that it's Afghans doing for Afghans, with little to no U.S. involvement," said Lt. Col. Andy Veres, commander of PRT Zabul. "That is exactly what we want."
Through the program, Zabul Province is to receive 266 metric tons of certified winter wheat seed. Qualified farmers will receive a voucher good for one bag of seed and three bags of fertilizer.
"Each bag of seed, after harvest, should yield about seven bags," said Mr. Greco.
"This is truly a great program," said Dawood. "We are going to distribute improved seed to 5,320 farmers within Zabul Province."
Once the seed is distributed, it is up to the farmers to sustain and produce a good crop.
"Normally when you grow wheat, you pick the best of it to save for replanting. The idea here is to plant the certified seed separately from other seed in order to increase the productivity for next year and get a better crop," said Mr. Greco.
In the past, Mr. Greco said, different people bought what they thought was wheat seed to distribute to the districts to "win hearts and minds," but as it turned out, the seed was not really certified wheat seed. This wasn't good for the farmers.
Started in September, the seed and fertilizer packages are being distributed from district centers throughout Afghanistan, and will continue through December.