Success story on an assets creation project in northern Afghanistan, Fall 2011. Interviews and photographs with project partners and beneficiaries.
On a sunny day in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh Province, the rolling green-and-brown hills in Khulm District lend the landscape an almost fairytale kind of beauty. On a rainy day, those same hills send sheets of water and mud rushing down into the villages below.
Gul Mohammed represents community interests as the head of the local forest management committee. He says that the area has been flooded 10 times in recent years. “This was a flood passageway in the past. Whenever we had rains, we had flooding.”
That was the past. To prevent flooding in the future, the villages in Khulm and neighboring Deh Dahdi district joined together in April 2011 to create an integrated watershed management system. The system tackles the water problem in multiple ways. Terraces and check dams slow the force of water, prevent run-off, and conserve soil. Reservoirs harvest rainwater. Pistachio trees increase water infiltration, prevent soil erosion, and provide livelihood opportunities.
More than 5,800 skilled and unskilled workers are involved in building the infrastructure for the system, which will ultimately benefit some 50,000 people in 25 villages. To generate future livelihood opportunities for the two districts, the communities are also planting more than 17,000 pistachio trees – expected to generate about $20,000 a year in income – as well as pine trees to create a public park. Women will be able to participate in this next phase of the project, which involves nurturing the trees and preparing replacement saplings for the forestation.
The design for the project in Khulm came directly from villagers, and was selected by the community after discussions with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). It was agreed that the communities would provide basic tools and manpower; WFP food to compensate the labourers; FAO technical assistance; and the government land. A local non-government organization, Modern Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Center (MAAC), oversees the day-to-day operations. “We are putting our hands together,” said Mohammad Sabir from the provincial agricultural department, about the strong cooperation among the community and local government in the watershed management project. “Everyone has their own contribution and responsibilities. Joint implementation of the project is better.” The project is part of WFP’s Food-for-Assets initiative, funded by USAID, a mechanism that uses food as a means to support people’s initiatives to improve livelihoods. WFP implements more than 100 of these projects in food insecure areas of Afghanistan, creating assets such as dams, irrigation systems, and road networks that link villages to larger markets.
It will take another five years for the pistachio trees to begin to bear fruit, but the residents are already satisfied. “Part of the community will be safe from floods,” says Gul.