Many organizations have described Afghanistan as one of the worst places for women worldwide due to the substantial challenges women continue to face. Child marriage, lack of education, isolation, discrimination, sexual abuse and lack of judicial protection are just some of the many issues that women face daily in Afghanistan. A culture prohibiting women to appear in public, combined with a widespread lack of education, means women enjoy few if any economic opportunities.
This is not the case for Nafasgul and several other women farmers in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, who have set up the Hurra Jalali Agriculture Service and Seed Production Company, a Village Based Seed Enterprise (VBSE) in their community. The VBSE model was initially piloted and tested successfully in Afghanistan with the help of researchers at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
In Afghanistan, seed production is traditionally considered to be primarly the task of men farmers. Women farmers have few opportunities to be involved in this activity which is often further exacerbated by their limited land rights. In collaboration with the Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, the idea was to implement community-based activities to address common problems related to the introduction and seed multiplication of newly developed improved crop varieties, whilst encouraging participation and the economic empowerment of Afghan women farmers.
The most challenging part of initiating a woman-led Village Based Seed Enterprise was to motivate women to get involved and take the leadership in seed business,” says Ms. Frozan Darwish, ICARDA’s Gender Expert in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s patriarchal social and cultural setup is highly restrictive, and seed production is considered to be primarily the task of men. Women farmers have few opportunities to be involved in this activity. Their participation is further exacerbated by limited land rights.
Scaling out to obey the laws of demand and supply
According to Dr. Yashpal Saharawat, ICARDA’s Afghanistan Country Manager, the number of village-based seed enterprises needed to be increased throughout the country in order to address the huge gap between the demand and supply of certified seeds in Afghanistan.
Results of a recently concluded International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) funded project on ‘Increasing Food and Nutritional Security in Afghanistan through Crop Diversification of Wheat-based Cropping System’ show that the number of farmers that purchased certified seeds of two newly released mung bean varieties increased by almost eight times in three years, from 5,000 to about 40,000.
“The main issue related to the purchase of certified seeds is their availability, not their cost,” says Dr. Saharawat referring to about 130 seed production companies formed by international organizations,including ICARDA in different provinces of Afghanistan.
However, all these seed production companies were dominated by men, and the presence of women was almost non-existent. When Ms. Darwish was asked about how this could be remedied to include women, she responded by saying:
On the one hand, women had to be encouraged to accept social and security challenges and get involved in seed production, and on the other their skills had to be upgraded to compensate for their lack of previous experience in seed production.”
Numerous meetings were organized in collaboration with the Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock , Directorate of Women’s Affairs, Community Development Councils, District Development Assemblies, female farmers and male members of their families.
Paving the path to gender parity, one seed enterprise at a time
A woman-led and a mixed- gender village-based seed enterprise were formed in Parwan province – ‘Hurra Jalali Agriculture Service and Seed Production Company’ and ‘Jabalsaraj Sabz Agriculture Service and Seed Production Company’, respectively. They were registered with the Ministry of Irrigation, Agriculture and Livestock, Afghanistan National Seed Organization (ANSOR), Afghanistan Investment Support Agency AISA) and have received an investment license. Women farmers from these companies were given foundation seeds and fertilizers by the ICARDA-CLAP project. They have produced commercial seeds, which will now be distributed further to other communities and villages.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Planet 50-50: Step it up for gender equality by 2030. Community-based incentives such as women led village-based seed enterprises are a first step towards ensuring that women are equal participants, both within the household and the farm, even in Afghanistan.
ICARDA's research work has been critical to not only resolving issues in the seed distribution systems, but also to empowering women farmers in Afghanistan to imagine new possibilities. Many of the women like Nafasgul are not only happy and excited about their involvement in the seed distribution process; they are not feeling confident enough about starting a seed business very soon.
“Parwan-Bastan was one of the companies with no women members previously. Now seven women farmers have taken membership here,” informs Ms. Darwish with a smile of accomplishment, thus hinting at the the slow but sure progress of closing the gender gap in agriculture.
For more information
Please contact Dr. Yashpal Singh Saharawat, ICARDA Country Manager, Afghanistan Project via y.saharawat (at) cgiar.org
Note: this story first appeared as an ICARDA contribution to the CGIAR website here.