This year, on International Women’s Day, the global community celebrates Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives. In alignment with the theme of the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, March 8 will focus on the rights and activism of rural women. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, rural women make up nearly a quarter of the global population, and they are a majority of the 43% women in the global agricultural workforce.

Women farmers are as productive and resourceful as their male counterparts; however, they are frequently unable to secure the same prices as men for their agricultural produce. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that only about 20% of all landholders globally are women, and women do not have equal access to the land, financing opportunities, or the markets that they need to secure a long-term livelihood. Agriculture is a mainstay of the rural economy in Afghanistan, however, according to the World Bank, only about 29% of women of working-age are employed in agriculture. For these women, access to land and financing opportunities, as well as access to markets where they can sell their produce, represents an opportunity to secure long-term income and a chance to significantly improve their livelihood.

                   little old lady      women at market

In Afghanistan, the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) supported the Women Farmers Agriculture Cooperative to improve the livelihoods of women and diversify their income, by establishing an organic vegetable farm in Darulaman, near Kabul. The Women Farmers Agriculture Cooperative consists of 100 women of limited means, who are either widowed or the sole provider for their families. Other partners of the project include the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, and the World Food Programme.

As part of the project, on Pilawary Farm, each woman was provided a plot of about 2000m2 on which to grow a wide range of organic vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and spinach. The farm sits on land with limited access to water and to remedy this, wells were dug on site and water reservoirs have been constructed. Solar water pumps have been installed and a drip irrigation system has been demonstrated on the farm and shared with interested parties. The farm is organic, and no chemical fertilizers or insecticides are used. The women have learned how to produce compost from kitchen and other biodegradable waste and have also learned about the harm that chemical fertilizers and pesticides can cause in the environment. The project on Pilawary Farm is the first ever demonstration and production of organic vegetables managed by women in Afghanistan. 

                 boy with jerry cans   solar panels

The participating women have been given training in organic farming methods, pre- and post-harvest management, food processing, packaging, and marketing. This has ensured their access to the agri-foods value chain, from production to the final consumer. With the knowledge they have gained at Pilawary Farm, some of the women have opened small shops where they sell pickled vegetables and jams. Additionally, the World Food Programme provides these women with a monthly ration of flour, pulses and oil, which secures their families’ access to food and proper nutrition. As a result of this project, the income of each participating woman increased from AFN 10,000 to 50,000 in one year.

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“I am getting 4000-5000 afghanis per month ($60-$70),” says Gul Puri, a project participant and mother of 5. “I take vegetables home every day, as well as jams and pickles. This means my children don’t go hungry.”

Through training and capacity building, rural women and girls can play a much greater role in both local and global food security. Women farmers can also play an invaluable role in protecting biodiversity through the use of sustainable agroecological farming methods, and the planting of endangered and indigenous crops. There is significant development potential in empowering rural women at the community level, and Government support can be critical. With help from Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, the women at Pilawary Farm are able to participate in sustainable, agroecological food production, processing, packaging, and marketing. Their socio-economic situation has improved – some of the women are now able to send their children to school and enjoy greater respect within their families and social networks.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment continues to be a critical element of the Small Grants Programme. In 2017, 29% of projects were led by women and 93% of total projects were reported as gender responsive.

Photos: UNDP/S. Omer Sadaat