Afghanistan: Empowering farmers to rebuild war-torn irrigation

Project Result / Case Study | 4 December 2020

Through a partnership between ADB and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, the Community-based Irrigation and Development Project was able to train 630 farmers to actively participate in the rehabilitation, upgrade, and maintenance of 175 small-scale and medium-scale traditional irrigation schemes covering about 38,850 hectares, benefiting more than 180,000 households.

Poverty is widespread in four northern provinces of Afghanistan—Baghlan, Balkh, Ghor, and Samangan. The people rely on agriculture to live, but food security is low. Afghanistan’s agriculture is heavily dependent on irrigation but their irrigation facilities have been degraded both by the passing of time and the brutality of war. As conflict continued, more and more infrastructure, including the irrigation facilities, get destroyed. The loss of these facilities was a major blow to farmers.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the Afghan government prioritized the rehabilitation and upgrade of irrigation facilities in the country. In its Afghanistan National Development Strategy in 2013, it aimed for 68% of its rural villages to benefit from new or rehabilitated small-scale irrigation systems.

This is not an easy task. The security situation of the country complicates things significantly. But the government, with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR), managed to even the odds with its Community-based Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project. This project did not just assist the country in rehabilitating much needed infrastructure, it also empowered farmers to manage their own community-based facilities.

Overcoming conflict and other constraints

Empowering farmers

Years of war have conditioned the people to be self-reliant. Often, they repair their own farm and irrigation facilities instead of waiting for external help. The project empowered the farmers further by providing them with the skills and the knowledge they need to help build the irrigation facilities and to maintain and manage them afterwards. It provided all farmers, men and women alike, with a series of activities that spanned the full agricultural process, contextualized according to their situation.

The farmers, through their community development councils (CDC) and with the support of the Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (DRRD), participated in the planning and development of the irrigation facilities.

The project provided training packages in agricultural management, watershed management and conservation, program management, construction project and quality control, and conflict management. The training sessions it provided matched the needs of the farmers and enabled them to assist during the rehabilitation and construction of the irrigation facilities.

One of the significant ways the project empowered farmers is by including women in these capacity-building activities. Women’s participation in Afghanistan has been traditionally low, especially in rural areas. This project successfully reached out to women farmers and ensured that they also had access to the capacity-building activities.

Enskilling provincial government agencies

The project tapped nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to assist the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) in strengthening the capacity of provincial staff of the DRRD.  NGOs trained them in orienting, mobilizing, and organizing rural communities. This activity helped the local government officers guide and support the CDCs during project implementation.

The project also provided the DRRDs support in project management, and monitoring and evaluation for impact assessment. This assistance enabled local officials to capably oversee the progress of the rehabilitation under their purview.

Reduction of security risks

The project rehabilitated 175 small-scale and medium-scale traditional irrigation schemes. Each scheme covers about 222.5 hectares. In total, about 38,850 hectares were assessed, appraised, and upgraded collaboratively by the communities and the provincial staff.

These would have been impossible to do without ample preparation, especially in a site where armed conflict can suddenly explode without any warning. To reduce security risks, the project prepared a security management plan that aimed to develop people’s ownership of the project. It saw the community not just as a beneficiary of the project, but as an integral part of it. This fostered community participation and involvement, which strengthened the local security environment.

Prior experience in implementing projects in a conflict area also helped reduce the risks. ADB and JFPR’s prior project in Afghanistan has enabled the MRRD, the provincial departments, and the Ministry of Finance to establish security risk-reduction procedures and methodologies that work well with communities and community development councils.


The project surpassed all its targets. When the project began, it targeted 120 irrigation facilities for rehabilitation. When it ended, it was able to rehabilitate 55 more than its target.

All the training activities it had planned were delivered on time and trained more people than previously planned. Since women do most of the planting and harvesting, the project reached out to them. Over 730 CDC members, 133 of whom were women, from 146 CDCs were trained in agricultural management, watershed management and conservation, program management, construction project and quality control, and conflict management.

The project reaped gains beyond what it had expected or planned. It generated jobs for the people, creating about 270,000 person days in short-term employment, approximately equivalent to roughly US$2.5 million in wages. In the process, more than 180,000 households or over 1.4 million CDC members benefitted from the rehabilitation activities and the jobs generated by the project.