The vast majority of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s beneficiaries are smallholders, located in areas characterised by the complexity and fragility of their natural resource bases. In such contexts, an integrated Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (NRM) approach, addressing the sustainable management of land, water, soil, plants and animals, is critical.
The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)’s initial focus was on making more land available for productive uses (e.g. through extending irrigation infrastructure), training farmers, and improving input supply systems. These elements remain central to the work, but are increasingly complemented by efforts to strengthen sustainability and environmental conservation, and to reduce conflicts by incorporating all stakeholders in natural resource management plans.
AKF’s NRM interventions aim to:
- Protect and revitalise pastures and rangelands;
- Improve water management systems to support the diversification of crops;
- Improve land management practices including minimum soil disturbance; maintenance of soil cover and species diversity; and
- Promote the sustainable management of forest resources.
Such interventions help to generate and sustain increases in productivity and form a core part of AKF’s extension work with farmers.
In agriculture, AKF is particularly focused on staple crops such as rice, wheat, millet, sorghum and maize. Initial efforts were largely concerned with productivity gains through seed improvement and crop diversification. However, over time, a more systematic approach has been developed which includes training for farmers on post-harvest handling techniques and storage, and improved linkages with agro-traders and processors. These activities are intended to help farmers realise the full potential of their crops. AKF also works to diversify farmers’ income streams through the production of high value products such as fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy. Interventions focus on improving input supplies (such as seed and fertiliser) and facilitating relationships with buyers and markets. Examples include the development of private-sector mother stock nurseries, which sell improved fruit tree saplings, and networks of para-veterinarians, who deliver animal health services to improve livestock productivity.
Evidence gathered across the country programmes indicates that agriculture and NRM interventions have had a significant effect on incomes from agricultural livelihoods and contribute substantively to AKDN’s overall objective to improve quality of life and well-being in target regions.