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Women in ag - a good story from Afghanistan

There's not so many feel-good stories coming out of Afghanistan these days, and even fewer about life getting better for women there.

But according to a news release from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations there's one good story to tell about women in agriculture.

A dairy project started by FAO in Kabul and four Afghan provinces, Logar, Wardak, Mazar and Kunduz, has proved so successful that the 1,600 farming families taking part have seen their incomes increase five-fold, from $130 to $650 a year. And as it's women who do most of the work involved, they keep 95 percent of the money.

The project started in 2003 with German funding and its success is built on a number of integrated elements such as improved fodder, access to artificial insemination or breeding bulls, improved veterinary services and better organization.

“That plus a lot of hard work,” says Tony Bennett, FAO's dairy officer. “Starting from scratch we helped them increase their milk production to over 2,600 gallons a day.” The approach is now known as the integrated dairy schemes (IDS).

FAO experts showed the farmers how to organize themselves into cooperatives that collect the milk and provide veterinary and animal husbandry services for their members. The cooperatives also operate processing plants which pasteurize milk and process it into products such as yogurt, fermented milk, butter and ghee (clarified butter) and run retail counters in the main cities. Farmers thus have a guaranteed outlet for their produce.

Dairy farmers and their families are not the only ones benefiting. While many more Afghanis now have access to fresh, healthy milk products, the success of the dairy schemes has also made it much more profitable for farmers to grow fodder/seed such as lucerne, perhaps even competing with illicit crop production.

Although local demand for fresh milk products is high, security problems, particularly in the south of the country, limit how fast the project can grow. But last year the Italian government came forward with $2 million to expand activities into Herat Province, and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) and the World Bank are also stepping forward with large programs to expand the IDS project concept.

The dairy initiative is part of larger FAO efforts to help revitalize Afghanistan's war-battered agricultural economy. Says Tekeste Tekie, the local FAO Representative, “Increasing farmers' incomes from cereal crops, horticulture and dairy produce can, in the long-term, offer a viable alternative to poppy cultivation.”

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