Agriculture accounts for 60 percent of Afghanistan’s economy with 80 percent of its total workforce dedicated to the sector. Yet, for over 28 million inhabitants, their future in the country’s agricultural economy remains uncertain. Real GDP growth fell from 10 percent in 2006-07 to just over three percent in 2008. Long-term wars, soil depletion and drought have devastated food security and led to the nation’s high poverty rate. With only 12 percent of the country’s land arable, new programs are being implemented to create more efficient land use – utilizing extensive field research, quality agro-inputs, strong management practices and superior technology transfer.
An early effort to address this issue came in 2005 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), chose IFDC to implement Food for Agricultural Revitalization and Market Systems (FARMS). As part of the USDA Food for Progress Program, FARMS also included collaboration with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and Joint Development Associates International (JDA).
The project’s first objective was to monetize 5,150 metric tons (mt) of soybean oil in Afghanistan and 10,000 mt of soybeans in Pakistan. The proceeds were used to fund the program that provided technical assistance for increased production of key food and oilseed crops. The program also focused on developing the wheat market by improving the quality and quantity of Afghani flour milled from domestic wheat. This effort was accomplished by linking key members of the wheat value chain which included farmers, seed and agro-input suppliers and millers. The converted agricultural products underwent extensive field-testing using various combinations of agro-inputs and irrigation methods to determine an optimal high value yield.
In an effort to escalate the program, FARMS expanded its budget to $5.7 million through 2009 and broadened research to include various vegetable crops that incorporated deep placement of fertilizers and micro-irrigation. More than 350 research trials were conducted on cereal and vegetable crops from 2005 to 2008 at six research stations, primarily in provinces of east-central and eastern Afghanistan. The purpose was to evaluate and refine new water- and nutrient-saving technologies such as drip irrigation, urea deep placement (UDP) and fertigation. Roughly 5,000 soil samples were collected from these stations and analyzed for important soil characteristics by IFDC scientists and agronomists. IFDC also conducted detailed analyses of soils outside of the research stations representative of the six provinces. These results were combined with IFDC’s crop modeling capabilities to develop improved fertilizer recommendations and field protocols.
In addition, the FARMS program engaged in:
- Training sessions for MAIL staff on methods to conduct independent research and extension activities. Two sessions focused on theoretical concepts of various statistical methodologies.
- Four trials focused on wheat varieties resistant to Ug 99, a crop-threatening wheat rust. MAIL was encouraged to promote new, genetically resistant varieties.
- Sixteen trials in drip irrigation systems for tomato and cabbage crops. Results suggested these systems improved yields and the efficiency of water and nutrient use.
- Translation of promotional materials such as brochures, banners and articles that were distributed to MAIL, researchers, extension agents, farmers and other stakeholders.
- Eleven collaborative studies of the wheat business market with commercial mills, public flour mills, private sector companies, agriculture cooperatives, baking industries and asiabs (small diesel and water mills). Several training sessions were held for the milling industry.
- Formation of the Afghanistan Flour Mills Association, Afghanistan’s first association of commercial and public sector flourmills.
- Design of market development and consumer education programs to promote the consumption of locally produced flour.
FARMS UDP Program for Rice
Broadcast urea and urea deep placement were tested with transplanted rice for the first time in Afghanistan, from June to November 2008, as a component of the FARMS project at the Nangarhar Provincial Research Station. In addition to testing fertilizer placement, the introductory trials also assessed the role of tillage (conventional vs. zero tillage) and varietal performance. The varieties tested included Kunduz, a traditional local rice variety, and Basmati 385, an improved variety developed in the Punjab region of Pakistan.
Preliminary results indicated that rice fertilized by UDP produced greater yields than rice fertilized by broadcasting, irrespective of tillage or variety used. While these initial results are promising, more work is required to determine individual components (fertilizer rates, tillage, high yielding varieties, etc.) of the UDP-based technology package that will provide maximum economic yield for the Afghan farmer.
FARMS UDP Program for Vegetables
Even though water and fertilizer are often scarce and expensive in Afghanistan, they remain essential for increasing agricultural production in this arid and impoverished country. This is the reason IFDC initiated on-farm research combining two resource-saving technologies – drip irrigation to increase water-use efficiency and UDP for greater fertilizer efficiency.
Although UDP’s previous successes have centered on irrigated rice, FARMS developed a testing program with vegetables in Afghanistan. Rather than deep placement only with urea (nitrogen) briquettes, the FARMS project utilized briquettes that combined all three essential plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The drip irrigation component further enhanced resource conservation, minimizing evaporation losses by delivering water directly to the crop’s root zone.
One key in the promotion of this resource-saving technology may be the Chapin bucket, a drip irrigation system utilized in Afghanistan by IFDC. Efficient and affordable, irrigation innovations such as this could lead the way to faster program adoption. And although the costs to initiate drip irrigation-UDP systems are higher, the long-term reduction in water, fertilizer and labor requirements gives the system an advantage over flood and furrow irrigation systems.
- Previous greenhouse research at IFDC has shown significant benefits by combining drip irrigation and urea briquettes.
- Greenhouse tests in 2007 and 2008 showed that deep-placed nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium (NPK) briquettes applied with drip irrigation produced significantly more marketable fruit than fertigation (soluble NPK added to irrigation water) or drip irrigation combined with deep-placed granular NPK.
- Crop tests in six Afghan provinces using UDP and drip irrigation for tomato and cabbage crops – on raised beds with plastic mulch – showed that the combination improves both water and nutrient use efficiencies and significantly increases yields.