Mir Abdullah, 25, looks on with satisfaction as water is being pumped out of a well, irrigating different areas of his persimmon and plum orchard. Farmers like Abdullah used to plant different kinds of fruit trees in one area, not knowing much about tree diseases, or how to irrigate properly.
"If I do horticulture in a better way as a government project has taught me, I can earn up to $35,000 a year," says Abdullah, 25. "In the past, I had no income from the horticulture work I did. We used to do horticulture just enough for household consumption."
With the help of the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP), Abdullah now knows how best to put his five-jerib land (1 hectare) to maximum use. "I have learnt a lot this year from NHLP officers and have gained more experience, which has given me a better understanding of horticulture," he says.
NHLP activities in Khost Province have taught farmers the best practices in farming, encouraging and motivating them to use a modern orchard system. Abdullah is one such enthusiastic farmer: "Having an organized system of horticulture will definitely make us very satisfied and happy. In Khost, our orchards are now modern, very neat and ordered, as it is based on NHLP guidance. There is a good variety of trees and NHLP has taught us to plant them in a very different way from how we did in the past."
The farmers pay 25 percent of the cost of each tree provided by NHLP, but that share is expected to increase as farmers earn more with the modern system. "Until now, some farmers have contributed 25 percent cost of each tree, others contribute up to 30 percent. We hope their contributions go up to 50 percent," says Zaher Jan Saleem, NHLP Provincial Coordinator in Khost Province. "With the training we provide, farmers are more ready to take on horticulture and get a good harvest."
NHLP operates under the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock(MAIL). It is working toward the overarching goal of increased productivity and overall production of horticultural products. The project began its activities in April 2013 and its work will run through the end of 2020. It is supported by a $190 million grant from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
The project aims to promote adoption of improved production practices by target farmers, with a gradual rollout of farmer-centric agricultural services, systems, and investment support across the country. Its activities are currently implemented in 300 districts in 31 target provinces, numbers that may grow as conditions warrant. So far, the project supported more than half a million Afghan farmers including 160,000 women. NHLP activities have three components: horticultural production, animal production and health, and implementation management and technical assistance.
Since starting its work in Khost Province in January 2016, NHLP has established more than 1,000 jeribs (200 hectares) of different varieties of orchards, such as pistachio, persimmon, apple, almond, and plum. The project covers 10 districts, including Khost city.
Haji Abdul Noor, 28, is another farmer from Gurbaz District in Khost Province. He has dedicated half of his 10-jerib land to growing almond, persimmon, plum, and apricot trees provided by NHLP. "It is a modern and great system, it will help us to have better harvests in the future," he says. Each tree is planted at a distance of 3 to 5 meters from each other and fertilized according to NHLP guidance. "The trees NHLP provided to us are certified and suitable to the environment of Khost," Haji Abdul Noor points out.
The project trains farmers in different topics in monthly Farmer Field Schools (FFSs). The training focuses on teaching proper irrigation methods, tree diseases and ways to deal with them, and best practices of farming. Farmer Saeedullah, 43, who has a high school education, says he is extremely happy about NHLP because of the FFS training. "Their horticulture methods are very developed and modern," he says.
NHLP's work in Khost Province has helped local farmers to learn better horticultural practices. The new skills and improved seeds for planting have given the farmers the ability and hope to harvest their lands for better livelihoods.