Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Farming in the face of adversity, with improved wheat yields in Afghanistan

A new report shows how the Australian Government and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have linked together in one of the world’s most difficult environments, and are making a real difference to Afghan farmers and their families.
2 Afghani children holding wheat stalks
Afghan children with harvested wheat

Afghanistan faces many challenges, being ranked 172nd out of 187 countries on the UN 2011 Human Development Index. Up to 80% of its population lives below the extreme poverty line, and its economy relies heavily on agriculture. A collaborative effort between the Australian Government and FAO has resulted in substantial gains in wheat yields, which are already directly benefiting many Afghan farming households.

Between 2002 and 2011, the Australian Government provided $6.6million for research led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) on wheat and maize in Afghanistan. The research evaluated the suitability of selected high-yielding varieties for Afghan conditions and farming systems.  FAO contributed $34 million to improve seed distribution, including varieties identified by CIMMYT.

'Obtaining this complementary funding from FAO was critical to get these high-yielding varieties out into the hands of the farmers', said Mr David Pearce of the Centre for International Economics (CIE).
2 Afghani men sitting on roadside
Surveying an Afghan farmer (Photo: D. Pearce)
ACIAR recently commissioned CIE to investigate the impacts on farmers of this work in Afghanistan. A survey provided a snapshot of the adoption and performance of improved wheat varieties as well as a background of the farmers planting them. 466 farmers were surveyed face to face by locals in seven provinces (about 66 per province). The survey questioned farmers about their incomes, their growing practices and their yields.

'There were young and old farmers surveyed—their average age was around 45. Most were illiterate and had only received a couple of years of formal education. Generally the only farm training they'd received was from their parents.

'The good news is that about one tenth of the total area being planted for irrigated wheat in the surveyed provinces is now growing the improved varieties. This represents an impressive 10% adoption of the new technology since the seeds were first released', said Mr Pearce.
Farmer with his harvested wheat (Photo: D. Pearce)
The wheat varieties provided through the projects produce significantly higher yields compared with local alternatives. An improved net productivity of 22–34% is achieved once the costs of seed, fertiliser, herbicide and so on have been factored in. 

If the experiences of the 466 farmers surveyed are typical of all the provinces targeted by the ACIAR research, the total potential impact could be as high as $400 million (a 10-fold return on the joint investment), with tens of thousands of farmers and their families benefiting from the new technology.

In an environment where every grain counts, this increase is helping farmers produce enough food, and contributing to Afghanistan’s recovery from years of drought and decades of war. 
Young Afghan farmer (Photo: D. Pearce)

By Dr Wendy Henderson, ACIAR's Science Communicator

More information:
Impact assessment report: ACIAR wheat and maize projects in Afghanistan

ACIAR projects:
SMCN/2002/028 Stress tolerant wheat and maize for Afghanistan: ‘Seeds of Strength’
CIM/2004/002 Wheat and maize productivity improvement in Afghanistan
CIM/2007/065 Sustainable wheat and maize production in Afghanistan

Partners article Planting the seeds of Afghanistan’s revival

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