Averting famine in Afghanistan: US universities and Ag Agencies join forces

News and Press Release
Originally published
Afghan farmers need all the help they can get to rebuild agriculture in this war and drought devastated land. The distribution of wheat seed and fertilizer has already drastically improved crop yields over the 2001 harvest, but much remains to be done. Malnourishment still plagues the Afghan population and the agricultural infrastructure is in ruins.
The Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan is distributing over $1,300,000 in project grants targeting key areas identified by needs assessments conducted within Afghanistan. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the grants will draw on the scientific expertise of organizations around the world.

Some of the immediate barriers to rebuilding agriculture include the inadequate supply of improved seed of a wide variety of crops, the need for training of Afghan farmers in new techniques and 4 years of drought. Afghan farmers are struggling with infestations of insects and the lack of forage for what remains of their livestock. Over the past year, the Future Harvest Consortium distributed approximately 5,000 metric tons of improved wheat seed to thousands of Afghan farmers and dramatically increased crop yields in 2002. While wheat is the most important staple in the Afghan diet, crop diversity is necessary for addressing malnutrition and reestablishing cash crops for local use as well as export.

The International Potato Centre, based in Peru, will implement a project to rapidly increase the supply of quality potato seed in Afghanistan for local needs as well as future export to neighboring countries, by stimulating the development of a farmer-based seed multiplication system in Jalalabad and Bamiyan Districts.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, based in Mexico, will work to improve corn and wheat cropping systems. The project aims to distribute approximately 5-7 tons of improved corn seed to smallholder farmers in selected target areas in northern plains as well as in the drier southern zones. To assist in rebuilding the capacity of the Afghan national agricultural research system, local researchers will be trained in new agricultural disciplines to develop their re-emerging research and extension services.

Satellite remote sensing and GIS technology will be utilized by Michigan State University to produce comprehensive rangeland information to assist farmers in managing their rangelands for better forage production. Maps will be provided to farmers along with training in interpreting and using the information.

Drought has dried up surface water supplies and the bulk of the irrigation systems, which produced over 80% of Afghanistan's food supply. Ground water resources have been exploited and the water tables have dropped significantly over large areas of the country causing wells to go dry. Soil salinization and degradation is a priority issue in five provinces -Helmand, Ghazni, Faryab, Shaberghan, and Khandahar.

The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, based in the United Arab Emirates, will provide apprenticeships for farmers to improve their basic skills in designing and operating improved irrigation systems suitable for saline soils and water.

Teams from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR), will be working to introduce best management practices for farm water management and irrigation.

The number one biological constraint of wheat and barley production in Afghanistan is the insect known as "Sunn Pest." The indiscriminate use of pesticides has created resistance and killed the natural enemies of this destructive insect. Crop yields in wheat were diminished anywhere from 50% to 90% in 2002. The University of Vermont will send a team offering an in-country training course using an integrated management approach to fight Sunn Pest and other major pests. The course will include training on biological control, including methods for mass rearing of important natural enemies.

Each of these efforts focuses on building the capacity of Afghan farmers and scientists to continue the improvement of crops and techniques well into the future.

For more information about this topic and the rebuilding of Afghanistan's agricultural economy, please contact:

  • The Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan is a multi-partner effort led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). More information on the Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan can be found at:

  • The mission of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is to improve the welfare of people and alleviate poverty through research and training in dry areas of the developing world by increasing production, productivity, and nutritional quality of food, while preserving and enhancing the natural resource base. ICARDA is a Future Harvest Center supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. For more information visit: or contact

  • The International Potato Center (CIP) ( seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security on a sustained basis in developing countries through scientific research and related activities on potato, sweet potato, and other root and tuber crops, and on the improved management of natural resources in the Andes and other mountain areas.

  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)is a government agency providing U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for more than 40 years. For more information visit: