Afghan farmers attend an eye-opening technical training on wheat cultivation as part of FAO’s emergency wheat cultivation assistance package, comprising certified seed, fertilizer, technical training, and COVID-19 sensitization.
“If the foundations of a house are not solidly built, can the house be safe and steady?” asked Abdul Qodus Shams, extension worker, to the farmers attending the training on land preparation, wheat cultivation, fertilizer application, and irrigation techniques in a village of Noorgal district, Kunar province, Afghanistan.
Abdul’s training session was specifically discussing the most effective way of applying fertilizer for wheat. He intended to disprove with facts the traditional but ineffective methods, as most farmers used to apply urea only once during the crop growing season. “I looked after my wheat crops very carefully, but they were very often too weak,” says Pak Rahman, one of the 37 200 farmers who have attended this same training organized by FAO in 16 provinces across Afghanistan.
The unveiled secret: how much and when you should use urea
Pak Rahman did not know how to correctly apply urea in order to build the solid ‘foundations’ for wheat crops to grow properly. During the technical training, he learnt how much and at what cropping stage to use these fertilizers. “This is the big secret that has been unveiled to me thanks to this training. I immediately put this advice into practice for this cropping season and my crops are growing healthier, greener, and stronger,” admits the Afghan farmer.
When urea is correctly applied throughout the cropping cycle, including seed sowing, tillering, and heading stages, it contributes to strengthening wheat crops so to better withstand pests and crop diseases, as well as heavy rains or high winds – another important lesson learnt for Pak Rahman, who had often struggled with these issues. He believes that “anyone who actively participated in the technical training will see big positive changes in their wheat production”.
“The villagers are satisfied because they have seen tremendous ‘greenery’ and remarkable differences in their wheat cultivation this season,” says Abdul.
The training was conducted by Future Generations Afghanistan (FGA), FAO’s implementing partner, as part of a more comprehensive and time-critical assistance project. FAO assisted marginal and food insecure farming households through emergency agricultural inputs. Thanks to the funding provided by the Underfunded Emergencies window of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), managed by OCHA, more than 250 000 vulnerable farming families in 46 districts across 16 provinces of Afghanistan have been assisted.
Wheat cultivation package: an opportunity in times of distress
Coupled with other factors, such as heightened insecurity or the lingering effects of the 2018 severe drought, COVID-19 related restrictions to movement spiked commodity prices, meaning that vulnerable farming families could not access improved (certified) wheat seeds. As reported by the 2020 Seasonal Food Security Assessment, over 90 percent of farmers cannot buy certified seeds. They are either too expensive or simply not locally available.
“I had no intention of cultivating wheat for the next season because I knew I couldn’t afford the costs of buying certified seeds from the market,” says Rahimullah, a farmer from Paktika province.
Rahimullah’s family has endured hardship and hasn’t been able to yield anything from their agricultural land. One cow was their only means of livelihood. As many other vulnerable farming families, they were lacking the knowledge as well as the necessary amount of quality seeds and fertilizers to get started.
Like Rahimullah or Pak Rahman, all of the participants received a wheat cultivation package, which consists of 50 kg of certified wheat seeds, 50 kg of diammonium phosphate fertilizer, and 50 kg of urea fertilizer. “This package has given me the possibility to grow wheat. I am more than happy for this time-critical emergency assistance,” says Rahimullah.
This support has reached the most vulnerable farmers in remote rural areas in Laghman province. FAO estimates that this emergency assistance will indirectly benefit over 750 000 people, thus mitigating some of the COVID-19 impacts and the ongoing food crisis.
Building short-term resilience and preventing the spread of COVID-19
“The best of this support is that I will become self-sufficient thanks to the new fruitful wheat yield,” says Raess Khan, 45, a farmer from Nangarhar province. “I understand the characteristics of good wheat seed, as well as the best time to plant, irrigate and apply fertilizers. I am very lucky to have cultivated an improved wheat seed variety,” he adds.
The estimated wheat production is expected to cover each family’s staple food consumption for seven months. Wheat straw used as forage for livestock will also contribute to safeguarding their food and nutrition security.
As part of the assistance provided, all participants also received a COVID-19 awareness raising session to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus, including safety measures to adopt when at the farm or at the market. Most families were not aware of the health risks of the pandemic and how to mitigate them.
The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), through its Underfunded Emergencies window, provided the funding for FAO to provide this time-critical assistance to marginal and food insecure farming households in Afghanistan. The main aim of the intervention was to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and the ongoing food crisis through the provision of emergency agricultural inputs.