Rural Development in Afghanistan - Aga Khan Development Network
Aga Khan Development Network

Rural Development in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is still largely a rural society with a subsistence economy based on agriculture. With a rapidly growing population, and millions of refugees having returned from neighbouring countries, the limited resources of farmland and water are under greater pressure than ever before. The rural population urgently needs to improve food security by diversifying and developing its economic base, improving access to education and healthcare, developing new sources of household income and improving transport and communications infrastructure. Without these changes, most rural Afghans will remain impoverished, unable to improve their standard of living.

Wheat harveset in BaghlanRural development activities focus on five sectors: human and institutional development, civil society, market development, natural resource management and infrastructure.The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has been working to promote long-term development in rural Afghanistan since 2001, building on an emergency relief operation which began six years earlier. Through its various agencies, AKDN now assists well over 1.2 million people in seven provinces across central and northeastern Afghanistan: Bamyan, Parwan, Baghlan, Takhar, Samangan, Kunduz and Badakhshan.   

AKDN implements its rural development programmes primarily through the Network’s specialist agency, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). Rural development activities focus on five sectors: human and institutional development, civil society, market development, natural resource management and infrastructure. But with all such AKDN programmes, individual activities are integrated into a Multi-Input Area Development (MIAD) framework.  By focusing development interventions geographically, AKDN brings a variety of disciplines to bear in a given area and with the aim of creating a critical mass of development activities that, eventually, reinforce each other.

Human and Institutional Development
AKF works with both state and civil society institutions to encourage them to identify development issues proactively, to promote community-centred development, to support pluralism and to aid the emergence of democratic governance.

The Afghan government’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP) is central to AKF rural development activities. The Foundation is a leading partner of the government in facilitating this nationwide programme, under which community development councils (CDCs) have been established to lead local village development. AKF has established 1,250 community councils across central and northeastern Afghanistan. It has also developed a comprehensive support programme, NSP Plus, to strengthen these councils’ role in local governance. With AKF assistance, councils have carried out more than 2,000 local infrastructure and vocational training projects across five provinces, addressing needs prioritised by the community.

AKF assists the creation of groups, or “clusters”, of development councils and district development associations to address wider common issues. Community development councils and cluster-level councils have begun to play a significant role in resolving local conflicts. Conferences organised for council members have promoted collaboration on issues such as health, primary school education and the environment, bringing significant results across AKF programme areas, including the following four examples:

  • New school enrolments (13,000 girls and 17,000 boys);
  • Participation of more than 1,000 women in health conferences;
  • Repairs and improvements to over 2,000 km of roads;
  • Planting of over 4,000,000 trees.

To increase access to simple financial services, the Foundation has established community-based savings groups in all areas where it works. These savings groups provide access to savings and loans for members of the group and their families in areas that are too remote to access formal lending institutions. These loans enable people to pay for healthcare, education or small business investments. Savings groups have now provided a total of over 8,000 loans. More than 60 percent of savings groups are women’s groups.

Civil Society
By strengthening provincial or national organisations, whether private or governmental, AKF seeks to provide lasting support for development at a grassroots level. The goal is to encourage the growth and development of a vibrant civil society in Afghanistan which focuses on development, is participatory and non-discriminatory, supports pluralism and deepens democratic values. The AKDN Civil Society Programme focuses on the provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Bamyan.

The Foundation has established a number of regional forums and training programmes to transfer knowledge and skills to a broader set of organisations operating regionally. They also enable civil society actors to collaborate in programme design and to avoid duplication of activities. The Badakhshan Development Forum was set up in that province with three partner development organisations. In 2009 the Takhar Development Forum was established to work on a similar basis, providing long-term support to local civil society organisations. These regional forums have produced numerous positive results. With the assistance of the local development forum in Badakhshan, the provincial Department of Women’s Affairs was able to expand its literacy programmes to cover more than 70 percent of the province in 2009. A new government provincial Department of Women’s Rights was also established to address the issue of domestic violence against women, which is a key issue for women throughout Afghanistan.

In Bamyan, the Programme for Professional Development (PPD), supported by AKF, operates a training centre to improve the skills of local government officials and civil society organisations. In addition to demand-driven training courses, the centre has begun an eight-month rural development management course for recent graduates that prepares them for work in government departments and NGOs. The Programme for Professional Development also provides capacity building to five government departments and four local NGOs, including training in project writing, planning and implementation, budgeting, and monitoring and evaluation.

AKF promotes greater awareness of gender issues through a wide range of approaches that include targeting civil society institutions led by women and supporting women-centred activities of government and civil society institutions. Already, a significant number of local NGOs supported in both AKF’s core programme areas and in southern Afghanistan are led by women or focus on women’s issues.

Promoting ethical behaviour in public institutions is a concern of the AKDN Civil Society Programme. Training in institutional integrity and corporate social responsibility has been provided for a number of institutions linked to the Network.

Market Development
AKF’s market development programme promotes small businesses, skilled employment and local institutions for economic development in rural communities. During 2009, the Foundation assisted 440 small enterprises involved in such areas as honey production, poultry, handicrafts, carpet weaving, furniture making, tourism and processing of agricultural commodities. Support for enterprise included assistance in developing business plans, technological improvements, supplying market information and improving market access.

The market development programme has begun a shift in focus towards larger businesses and high-potential subsectors. One notable project was the business planning for the start-up of a cashmere wool processing factory in Badakhshan. The factory will enable subsequent interventions to develop business activity along the value chain in the cashmere wool subsector. This will include hundreds of farmers who harvest cashmere hair from goats to sell to the factory, and producers who can buy the processed cashmere wool to produce handicrafts.

In 2009 AKF Afghanistan supported training courses for 1,300 individuals in vocational skills, including food processing, spinning wool, carpet weaving, embroidery, carpentry and tour guiding. AKF also trained trainers, developed curriculum and accreditation procedures, provided job counselling and enterprise start-up assistance and worked to link course graduates to employment opportunities.

A key objective of the market development programme has been developing local institutions which can provide services to support enterprise development in rural communities. Such institutions include private business service providers, local NGOs, vocational trainers and business associations. AKF also works to establish business associations, training their management and assisting exchange visits with other business associations.

AKF promotes the development of tourism in Bamyan and Badakhshan, working for the development of environmentally sound tourism enterprises which benefit local people. The Bamyan Ecotourism Programme focuses on the historic valley of Bamyan and Band-e Amir, Afghanistan’s first national park. In Badakhshan, tourism activities are promoted in the scenic Wakhan Corridor and the neighbouring Pamir region of Tajikistan. These areas are potentially world-class tourism destinations which can attract significant investment and already receive a growing number of Afghan and foreign visitors.

Natural Resource Management
The natural resource management programme focuses on interventions in livestock, agriculture, horticulture, social water management and management of watershed, rangeland and forestry. AKF works in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock to improve food security and to improve livelihoods through sustainable economic and ecological development.

AKF works to improve farming systems by providing participatory training for men and women through farmer field schools and Participatory Technology Development (PTD) groups. Livestock field schools and PTD meetings include sessions on enhancing productivity, animal welfare and value addition practices. More than 2,000 men and women were trained in these sessions during 2009. AKF has helped to establish 28 livestock development centres and 110 livestock field units to provide veterinary services. The programme estimates that animal populations have increased by 25 percent and animal mortality from preventable diseases has decreased by 50 percent as a result of access to these services.

Field Crops/Vegetables/Horticulture
AKF training in horticulture and the production of crops and vegetables focuses on improving productivity and reducing risk by encouraging diversification and sustainability in both traditional and new crop techniques. Demonstration field plots and orchards with improved fruit varieties are planted to encourage farmers to select varieties most appropriate to local conditions. AKF supports integrated crop management, a research-based programme which promotes organic methods of pest control and yield increase. Six horticulture development centres and nine privately owned mother stock nurseries provide horticultural services while helping to educate local farmers about improved growing techniques and varieties of saplings.

AKF works extensively with communities on soil and water conservation demonstration sites. Local development councils have been helped to devise area management plans for common pastures and rangelands, while water-retention earth structures have been built on hillsides prone to erosion. As a result, communities have reported increased water levels and greater plant cover at 84 sites.

Participatory Management of Irrigation Systems (PMIS)
The Participatory Management of Irrigation Systems (PMIS) programme aims to improve the management of canals and the water supply in a number areas where farmers depend heavily on irrigation. PMIS helps to promote greater equity in water access by establishing water-users’ associations (WUAs) to improve water management and to resolve conflicts over water.

With regard to infrastructure, the Foundation works to improve the rural population’s access to markets and social services. Projects are always carried out with the active involvement of the communities who will benefit from them.

Projects are identified through consultation with local communitiesRural infrastructure
Projects include construction and rehabilitation of footbridges and vehicle bridges, rehabilitation of irrigation systems and road improvements. Projects are identified through consultation with local communities, who are asked to contribute a percentage of the project cost, whether in labour, building materials or financial contributions. New roads, bridges and other infrastructure often have a major impact on rural people’s lives by providing easier access to markets and services.

School improvements are undertaken in consultation with provincial education departments and local communities. Communities contribute significantly to project costs by providing land, voluntary labour or construction materials. During 2009, improvements were made to 54 schools, with projects ranging from repainting to the construction of new classrooms. Many of these schools are supported by AKF’s education programme through teacher training and other types of support.

Health infrastructure
The Foundation builds clinics and other health-care infrastructure in line with the needs of local communities and the health authorities. AKF has carried out rehabilitation work at Bamyan Provincial Hospital and is involved in the ongoing rehabilitation of Faizabad Provincial Hospital, both of which are managed by AKDN for the Ministry of Public Health. In total, more than 800,000 people benefit from health facilities constructed by AKF.

Renewable energy
AKF promotes the use of renewable energy sources. In rural areas without electricity, AKF helps community development councils to install micro-hydropower or solar energy units to provide lighting and electrification for rural households for the first time. Most projects are carried out by local construction companies. Research is also being carried out on the use of pico-hydropower, wind energy, biogas and energy-saving model houses.