| Afghanistan is a landlocked Asian country at a strategic geographical location due to its links to neighboring countries of Central, Western, and Southern Asia. In spite of its vast untapped natural resources, the country is considered one of the least developed in the world. Frequent foreign invasions, civil wars, and armed conflicts spreading over centuries since 350 BC and, especially during the last three decades, have forced millions of Afghans to flee their homeland. Recently, however, a significant number of expatriate Afghans have been noticed returning home with hopes of rebuilding their country after the current war comes to an end. Durable peace, re-habilitation, re-construction and the return of life to normalcy in Afghanistan, but this still remains a dream for many people. |
Afghanistan’s capital is Kabul. The country is divided into 34 provinces, which are further divided into a total of 398 provincial districts. The districts are sub-divided into cities and villages. Each province has a Provincial Council, an elected body, which is supposedly involved in development affairs for its provinces. The population of Afghanistan in 2011 was estimated as 35.3 million.
Afghanistan has mountains, hills, plains and deserts. As such, its climate is extreme with dry bitter cold winters, very hot summers, snow falls on the higher altitude, and dust storms occur in dry areas. Substantial variation exists in day and night temperatures. Most of the rain falls between October and April. However, the agriculture sector remains very important in building Afghanistan’s economy, in spite of the fact that only 12 percent of its land area is arable and only about half of that is cultivated. The Kunduz Province in the north and Helmand Province in the south constitute the primary agricultural areas. In 2006-07, the share of agriculture in the country’s GDP was 32.6 percent and agriculture generates 70 percent of employment and plays supporting role for the manufacturing and the service sectors.
Most of the farms are very small, as about 69 percent of these farms are below five hectares. Only about 16 percent of the farms have over 10 hectares of arable land, either irrigated or rain-fed and just 6.5 percent of these farms have over 20 hectares, cover about 33 percent of the irrigated and 50 percent of the rain-fed land. Main crops include wheat, maize, barley, sugarcane, and cotton. The important fruit and vegetable crops are pomegranates, apricot, almond, walnut, mulberry and grapes, as well as onion, potato, tomato, watermelon and melon. Water requirements are usually met by rains in spring and melting snow in winter. Animals include cattle, karakul sheep and poultry, which play an important role in enhancing the income of farmers. The development of agriculture suffers from, among some other factors, a lack of proper irrigation, weak extension services, and poor marketing. Putting effective ban on opium cultivation by farmers, who are tempted by the high income from this crop, remains a serious problem for the government.
HISTORY OF EXTENSION AND THE ENABLING/DISABLING ENVIRONMENT
Although the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan was established in 1848, agricultural extension activities started only around 1920s. The Agricultural Development Bank of Afghanistan was established in 1954, and agricultural research and extension organizations were established during 1960s and 1970s with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Afghanistan had a well-established extension service during 1970s. The World Bank started the Training and Visit (T&V) approach during the mid-1970s as well as USAID providing financial and technical assistance to strengthen both agricultural research and extension. Also, under USAID scholarships, the government of Afghanistan sent dozens of nationals to the American University of Beirut and other institutions for higher education in agricultural extension. Also, the American Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) also ran training programs for extension agents in Afghanistan. At that time, the country had 24 research stations, with a combined staff of over 1,000. Similarly, there were about 216 extension units (one in each district), with an average of nine staff members for each unit, who also functioned as community mobilizers. The total number of extension staff in 1978 was comprised of about 2,520 persons. At that time, the country was almost self-sufficient in cereal production.
When the King was ousted in 1973, a communist regime came to power and the trend of agricultural development in Afghanistan shifted towards the establishment of state farms and farmers’ cooperatives. During the Soviet Union occupation (1979-1989) of Afghanistan, the main duties of a large number of extension workers were to promote cereal production, cooperatives, mechanization stations and irrigation infrastructure in accordance with the state farm model. As the resistance movement against the occupation picked up momentum, so did the violence, steadily destroying the fabrics of normal life. Farmers’ fields became mine fields killing people and cattle, scorching the once richly cropped lands. Farmers desperately resorted to poppy cultivation to survive. The expulsion of the Soviet forces was followed by several years of factional fighting with the country, eventually putting the Taliban into power in 1996. At that time, about 1,300 extension agents were still on the government payroll. But extension did not seem to be the government’s priority as the total number of extension workers was reduced to about 650.
The country had barely started recovering from effects of long wars when the 9/11 incident occurred in 2001, followed by a US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban were quickly ousted from power, the war did not stop due to insurgencies. Several years of almost non-stop bloodshed forced large numbers of Afghans, including farmers, to flee to other countries.