Thirty years of conflict has devastated Afghanistan’s agricultural sector. The result is an industry that employs 80% of the labor force and generates 40% of Afghanistan’s economic output, but is drastically out of date. With so much attention given to conflict resolution, too few organizations are providing funding, education, and solutions to Afghanistan’s agricultural crisis.
One organization that has taken on the challenge is the Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project (AAEP) at the University of California - Davis. The program works in conjunction with three other agricultural universities: Purdue University, Washington State University, and the University of Maryland. Since 2011, AAEP has worked to sustainably develop the agriculture industry in Afghanistan. This involves four extension offices around Afghanistan, with old research centers reconstructed into Provincial Model Teaching Farms. With demonstrations at these farms, and agents traveling village to village, AAEP hopes to spread farming education and practices that have been lost in the conflict.
The AAEP project also has a special program focused on involving and training women. Women compromise 60% of Afghanistan’s population, and they are the majority of the workforce on farms. However, their work is meagerly, if at all, compensated. AAEP works to make sure these women receive the same training and compensation as men, as well as education on food preservation, safety, and household nutrition.
AAEP’s efforts have been recognized by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2014, AAEP received the USDA Secretary’s Honor Award in global food security, the highest award they give. The award recognizes leadership, contributions, and public service in support of the USDA’s mission and goals.
UC-Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has world class research facilities, and also has a history of pairing up with Asian countries on food safety and security issues. In July, 2014, officials from UC-Davis and China’s Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University established the Sino-US Joint Research Center, in response to food safety crises in China earlier in the year.
Ethan Kannel is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a junior at Cornell University.