Afghanistan: A Simple Solution for Farmers

Project Result / Case Study | 13 April 2016

In Afghanistan’s Bamyan province, a small innovation is helping farmers stabilize and increase their incomes.

Bamyan, Afghanistan — In this picturesque, mountainous province of central Afghanistan, the rich soil and climate are well-suited for growing vegetables. Bamyan’s carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, potatoes, and onions are highly regarded in the markets of Kabul, the country’s capital.

Despite their popularity, Bamyan’s tasty vegetables traditionally have garnered minimal profits for farmers like Ms. Gul Bahar, who cultivates a 1.2 hectare farm in the province.

“What we produce has been taken by traders at a very low price just after harvest,” she says. “They store the produce during winter and then sell it at a very high price outside the village.”

Potatoes in Bamyan sell for the equivalent of about 11 U.S. cents per kilogram immediately after harvest. If they are stored and sold during the off-season, the same potatoes can be sold for double or triple the price.

Farmers in the area, including many women who cultivate fields while men seek work in distant provinces, have long struggled to find effective ways to store their harvest until prices rise.

“Farmers try to take advantage of the off-season prices by storing vegetables in traditional ways, usually in covered earthen pits,” says Thomas Panella, the Asian Development Bank’s Country Director in Afghanistan. “But these methods do not provide adequate ventilation, moisture, and temperature control. Produce remains vulnerable to soil-borne diseases and it’s common for farmers to lose up to 40% of their stored vegetables.”

A straightforward and proven solution is to provide farmers with better storage facilities for their vegetables, particularly potatoes. The Rural Business Support Project, launched in 2006 and supported by the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, built about 1,100 vegetable storage facilities for poor farmers in Bamyan province.

“I can make a considerable income from selling potatoes after harvest by storing them until the market price is at its peak.”

Farmer Ms. Gul Bahar

The structures, made of stone or brick, are designed to reduce damage from weather and pests. The underground structures maintain a steady temperature and humidity and require no power to operate. Under the project, the farmers were able to store their vegetables for 3-5 months with losses of only about 2%.

Since 2012, the Enhanced Agricultural Value Chains for Sustainable Livelihoods project, also supported by the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, has been spreading the success of the improved storage structures. It is also providing broader support for vegetable farmers in Bamyan, Kabul, and Parwan provinces, and for oilseed producers in Nangarhar and Balkh provinces.

The project, financed by an $18.5 million grant, seeks to increase the incomes of farmers and oilseed producers by forming community organizations that work together to improve farm efficiency, and by providing training to about 10,000 farmers.

The project is building more than 2,000 potato and onion storage facilities and financing machinery upgrades at processing facilities in Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif to improve the quality of edible oils. The project is targeting women farmers for assistance, training, and support.

Ms. Bahar, the vegetable farmer in Bamyan province, has already felt the impact. As a member of one of the 55 women’s associations formed under the project in her area she has had access to improved seeds, information on new planting techniques, and the opportunity to learn how to get the most from her land during a series of field training days.

She says her group has worked together to increase the incomes of its members by improving the efficiency of all aspects of the farming value chain, from cultivation to post-harvest. And her new vegetable storage facility is helping make sure the hard work pays off.

“I grow other vegetables but I am focused on potatoes,” she says. “I can make a considerable income from selling potatoes after harvest by storing them until the market price is at its peak.”

Mohammad Hanif Ayubi is a Senior Project Officer at ADB’s Afghanistan Resident Mission. Learn more about ADB’s work in Afghanistan.