Great Strides by Afghan Farmers

March 2008
Lochrane A. Gary - Hardee County Extension, Director/Livestock Agent

Great strides are being made by Afghan farmers. This is my conclusion after recently completing a four-week assignment with a USAID-funded Land O'Lakes dairy project in Afghanistan. I was impressed with the difference in appearance - and milk production - between cows owned by farmers assisted by the Land O'Lakes project and those owned by non-project farmers. As a result of the training provided, project farmers almost always keep feed and water available for their cows, which is generally not the case with non-project farmers.

When we began working in Afghanistan nearly a year ago, cows were typically in pretty dire condition. Afghan farmers have been virtually isolated from the outside world for many years, and the Afghanistan government has not had resources to provide them assistance for decades. As a result, farmers have lost much of the knowledge they had before the wars started, and they have not been able to learn about modern animal husbandry techniques that could have allowed them to improve the condition of their animals.

diagnosing Foot and Mouth Disease
Demonstrating to veterinarians procedure to diagnose Foot and Mouth Disease.

Some of my observations of the typical conditions for local dairy cows are as follows:

  • "Dairy cattle production and animal husbandry in general, is seriously flawed in Afghanistan. The single most glaring deficiency is inadequate nutrition. The cattle are starving, beginning at birth, resulting in stunted growth, delayed puberty and breeding, immature reproductive tracts, insufficient energy for reproduction, and pitifully low milk production. Many four-year-old females were observed to be less than 400 pounds, with infantile reproductive tracts and inactive ovaries.
  • The primary roughage fed is wheat straw processed for the building trade. It is cut into very short pieces, usually less than one-half inch in length, which passes quickly through the digestive system. This is supplemented with mulberry leaves, corn stalks and in some cases barley".

I observed that much additional training and reinforcement is needed, but I believe the program is working! When compared to non-project cattle in the same village, project cattle are healthier, with fewer external parasites, and they are being maintained in much cleaner environments. The female farmers are washing their hands before milking and are using improved and more sanitary milking procedures. This has resulted in cows producing cleaner milk, which is being sold for a higher price.

The president of the local shura (governing council) in Charikar, while addressing a crowd of over 100 participants at the first-ever Livestock Field Day recently, summed it up best when he stated: "We have 85 farmers in this area cooperating with the Land O'Lakes Dairy Revitalization Program. Their cows are producing more milk, and the farmers are more profitable. But we have 1100 farmers in this village, and we need all of them to be involved in this program".

Land O'Lakes and our Afghan partners have big plans for the dairy farmers in Afghanistan. We are starting with the basics - teaching farmers how to better feed and care for their animals and how to make sure the milk they collect from them is cleaner and of higher quality. We have adopted an approach that we believe is culturally sensitive and can provide training directly to the people who care for the cows - the women in the households.

moman farmer receiving medicine
Woman farmer receives medicine for one day's treatment for sick cow.
Most village women are illiterate and cannot be given written instructions,
hence they are asked to return to the veterinarian each day to receive medicine.

Land O'Lakes, with assistance from NGO partner agency U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council (US-ARC), has hired women veterinarians to be the primary trainers on the project. These women have gone out to the villages and trained women leaders in each village targeted, and as a result, with a relatively modest effort, 600 to 700 women farmers are being instructed each week. In the coming months, we will be moving to further multiply our efforts by identifying other women who can travel to more isolated villages and provide training to women there.

In the longer term, the project will be assisting these farmers to organize farmer associations and/or cooperatives, which will allow them to become more involved in the dairy industry in Afghanistan and to get more value out of the milk they produce. The next step in the process will be the establishment of milk collection centers; the first one is now under construction in the town of Charikar in Parwan province. A Land O'Lakes dairy project in Azerbaijan developed the design, using surplus shipping containers in the structure. They are modified inside and out to contain the milk collection equipment and eventually some milk processing equipment. Over the course of the next year, the project will establish six to eight collection centers in the Parwan province, giving the farmers involved the ability to cool their milk after collection and to secure a higher price for it in the market.

Land O'Lakes is only at the start of its dairy revitalization efforts in Afghanistan. We hope to be able to provide assistance to many more Afghan dairy farmers over the coming year, and beyond that. The livelihood of the rural poor is being improved one village at a time.

synchronizing cow for later insemination
Explaining to farmers how to synchronize cow for later insemination.

demonstrating semen collection
Demonstrating semen collection to veterinarians.

artificially inseminating a cow
Author trains veterinarians to synchronize and artificially inseminate cows.

Return to top