It is a sunny autumn day in Ishakashim valley in north-eastern Afghanistan. A 40-year old farmer, Amin, hoes the ground beneath the apple trees in his orchard. After he finishes each tree, he stands straight, stretches his back and leans a few moments on his hoe.
He finishes his hoeing. The sun is getting low now, and the work is done for the day. He collects glossy ripe pumpkins from the furrows beneath the apple trees for his dinner. To his left, newly-harvested potatoes lie in the shade, waiting to be taken to market. Amin has enough food for the family’s dinner and also enough to sell.
Before he planted trees on the land he inherited from his father, Amin was cultivating traditional crops, like wheat and barley, but these didn’t make enough money for him to feed his family. The same story was true for other farmers in the district.
Ishkashim has benefited very little from the development aid that has come to Afghanistan. There is no single paved road in the district. Donkeys and mules are the main means of transportation, and the main bazaar is a row of wooden shops.
A government survey on socio-economic condition of Afghan people has classified Ishakshim in the ‘emergency’ category. The survey says 78% of households in Ishkashim consume poor food, more than a quarter of the population in ishkashim rely on farming, but only 41.67% of them have access to fertilizers and improved seeds.
UNDP’s Global Environment Facilities (GEF) small grants programme supports farmers with alternative livelihoods. Under the programme, fruit tree saplings provided to the farmers just like Amin.
Since he planted the new crops, Amin’s income has doubled and he expects an even higher income in the next few years as the trees get bigger. The orchard allows Amin to use the same land for intercrops such as carrots, potatoes, eggplants, pumpkins and onions. In the last season alone, Amin harvested two tons of potatoes and enough hay for his livestock from the intercrops of his fruit orchard.
“It is a dream to harvest my own trees in Ishkashim” Amin said. “I never thought it would be possible. We can produce enough fruit for the family and also sell enough to meet our other needs.”
UNDP has partnered with a local organization the Ropani Foundation to expand the programme and assist more families in the area. They have nursed 1000 plants in the government fruit nursery to be distributed to farmers in the district. The success of this project has also inspired other aid organizations in the region to replicate the experience. Now there are more than 700 small fruit orchards in Ishakashim that are supported by different organizations. Just like Amin’s fruit trees, Ishkashim is beginning to flourish.