News: Farah provincial Director of Agriculture, irrigation and livestock helps Local farmers to develop farming techniques
Story by Lt.j.g. Matthew Stroup
FARAH CITY, Afghanistan - – Farah provincial Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL), Abdul Manan Matin, is driving an initiative to build a demonstration greenhouse at his office compound in Farah City, in an effort to connect Farahi farmers with new and innovative techniques to improve crop yields and profit margins. The demonstration greenhouse will help to drive agriculture and agribusiness development within Farah, by introducing new methods of farming and irrigation to Farahi farmers. The greenhouse project is a joint venture between Manan and Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, and USDA field program officer Chris Koym, who spearheaded the coalition’s effort to start the project. The first greenhouse in Farah City is scheduled to open in early 2013.
Manan, who has a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Herat University, is working to make a difference in the way that Farah does agriculture, in large part due to his education, work experience with NGO’s and capacity building initiatives. He has worked in development with USAID for the past few years, and was most recently the local director of the RAMP UP program in Farah. In his new role as the DAIL, Manan values the opportunity to improve the lives of the people of Farah, not only through working with coalition partners, but also through working closely with the Farah Farmer’s Cooperative Union and other NGO’s to pool and direct resources where they are needed.
“Farah is blessed with fertile land, a long growing season and the best crops in the region,” said Manan. “Some of our best crops are watermelon, pomegranates, jujubes, cucumbers and onions. The biggest challenge for me is connecting my office and extension agents to the farmers of Farah, and also developing business opportunities for them both in and out of Farah. ”
Despite having such fertile land, much of the challenges that are found in Farah’s agribusiness sector center on the cost of electricity, the hardiness of the fruits and vegetables during travel and the overhead cost and security associated with transit. Currently, the cost of electricity in Farah is currently twenty times higher than that of Herat, a challenge that forces many business owners to take their business northward. Additionally, crops like watermelon and onions don’t travel nearly as well as a hardy fruit like jujubes, which travel quite well, which limits local farmer’s options when choosing what to grow. Farmer’s are also forced to choose whether or not to grow poppy, which offers a much greater profit margin than other crops like wheat.
“The most significant challenge to business development in Farah right now,” says Ray Sudweeks, lead Dept. of State representative in Farah who works with the PRT, “is the lack of inexpensive electricity for the people of Farah. Profit margins vanish rapidly and business owners apply their energies elsewhere when profits can’t be realized.”
One of the best ways that Farah is attempting to combat these challenges is the development of greenhouses and research plots that will lead to Farahi farmers yielding higher crop ratios per dollar spent and larger profit margins. Additionally, the demonstration greenhouses will exhibit techniques to farmers that use significantly less water and electricity to grow crops, mitigating cost restraints for farmers. Another new technology, solar-powered water pumps, may be exhibited at the greenhouses in the future. Equally important as technology and innovative techniques is the leadership of provincial line directors, like Manan, who work with leaders and business owners from other provinces who can facilitate the export of Farahi crops to other provinces in Farah and outside of Afghanistan.
“These greenhouses are a simple and relatively easy program to implement,” said U.S. Army Capt. Garrett McAdams, a civil affairs officer with the PRT who is assisting in implementing the project. “Once we finish the first greenhouse, Manan and his team will be able to show local farmers new techniques and share tangible results with them, which really is the key. If the DAIL can show results, the farmers in Farah will likely adopt new, more productive techniques in their day-to-day farming practices.”
The idea for the demonstration greenhouse came from a local Farahi farmer who uses greenhouses to develop his business. The farmer, who asked that his name not be used for this story, currently operates over 30 greenhouses that are approximately 8.5 feet by 40 feet. He uses 85 percent of his current capacity to grow cucumbers, which he exports to Herat and Kandahar, and yields him nearly as much profit as poppy would. The other 15 percent of his capacity is used for cultivating tomatoes, which are primarily for personal use, though some are sold in local markets. He also has approximately 30 more greenhouses that he could use for growing crops, though he doesn’t have the land to support the effort.
The farmer honed his skills and developed a simple drip irrigation technique that he learned over the course of 15-20 years, and before deciding to bring his experience and skills back to Farah. The biggest advantage he gains from the greenhouses is a jump on production and an extension of an already long growing season in Farah, directly increasing his ability to make a good profit on his crops.
The hope for the future is that the demonstration greenhouse in Farah will be an example for the DAIL extension agents in Farah’s 10 other districts to use as a way to share knowledge and experience with local farmers - knowledge that farmers can use to build their own greenhouses and implement the skills and techniques learned at the district centers and DAIL’s office to support their businesses and families.
While challenges still exist for the people and farmers of Farah, it is clear that line directors like Manan are doing everything in their power to work for the people. Only time will tell if the greenhouses take off and business owners are able to implement the practices into their daily use, but it is another example of a smart, ambitious leader in Farah, willing to make the effort to help the people he serves.
PRT Farah’s mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah province, Afghanistan. Their civil-military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information about the PRT follow their DVIDS page at www.dvidshub.net/unit/PRTF or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PRTFRH.
This work, Farah provincial Director of Agriculture, irrigation and livestock helps Local farmers to develop farming techniques, by LTJG Matthew Stroup, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.