Incentives Driving Economic Alternatives – North, East and West (IDEA-NEW) is a USAID-funded initiative in Afghanistan that began in March 2009. IDEA-NEW provides agricultural incentives and economic alternatives in the poppy-prone regions of Afghanistan, continuing USAID’s agricultural sector efforts to promote legal productive agriculture in rural areas and to curb narco-trafficking.
IDEA-NEW’s long-term focus is sustainable growth in the agriculture and rural development sectors with major emphasis on job creation, agricultural sales, and capacity building to increase agricultural competitiveness. The program will improve market access and alternative livelihoods through rural job creation and programs promoting women’s economic inclusion. IDEA-NEW targets all agricultural framework components including agriculture production, rural enterprise and infrastructure development, financial service access and value chain development for key regional industries and trade corridors. The program works in collaboration with national, provincial and district level offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, as well as provincial governors’ offices. IDEA-NEW is implemented by three partners: ACDI/VOCA in the North/Central Region; DAI in the East and West; and Mercy Corps in the Northeast.
Improving the Quality of Agricultural Production and Services
Yields of annual crops in Northern Afghanistan are very low and susceptible to drought, especially those grown on rain-fed lands which sustain heavy losses due to weeds, fungal disease, insect pests and variable rainfall. Traditional cultivation methods broadcast too much seed, leading to waste and lack of stand uniformity and establishment.
To introduce farmers to improved methods of crop cultivation, IDEA-NEW conducted farmer field days at 19 demonstration sites over a three-year period. More than 8,000 farmers have received training in improved agronomic cultural practices of annual crops including land preparation, seeding rates, improved varieties, fertilization, and harvesting techniques with proper control of weeds, insects and diseases. Each demonstration site contains plots of wheat, oilseeds (flax, sesame, safflower or canola) and pulses (lentils or chickpeas). The program has supported 31 agricultural cooperatives through provision of two wheeled tractors and to four agricultural cooperatives on laser land leveling machines to increase adoption of this agricultural technology. A total of 122,743 farmers have been trained in improved agronomic techniques and agriculture productivity to date.
Traditionally, vines have been grown on the “jui” or earth trellised vineyard system throughout Afghanistan, but through IDEA-NEW training, technical assistance and equipment grants, farmer groups are enabled to use a trellising system to double production yields. To achieve this outcome, IDEA-NEW facilitated the establishment of four small, local enterprises to supply and install the concrete trellis posts. Agricultural retailers have been trained to supervise the field layout and establishment of trellising systems and are incentivized to oversee correct installation of each system. To date, over 12,500 posts have been installed.
Supporting the Livestock Industry
IDEA-NEW works with a local organization to train 109 paramedic-veterinarians throughout the five target provinces. Through this initiative, 6,218,838 livestock have been vaccinated and/or medicated since the beginning of the project and 25 feed banks have been established which now benefit 3,750 livestock owners. To date, IDEA-NEW has worked directly with 500 female dairy farmers and has established eight village milk collection and processing centers in five provinces. In addition to providing opportunities to sell surplus milk locally, these centers are used as collection points for the milk processing center in Balkh Province that is supported by IDEA-NEW to produce cheese, yogurt, ice cream and pasteurized milk.
ACDI/VOCA is also working to increase private sector partnerships between farms/agribusinesses and successful local and international firms in order to promote business development. The small grants component of the program encourages strengthening of producer organizations, trade and business associations, and community-based organizations. IDEA-NEW has supported six non-profit provincial agricultural retailers’ associations. These associations serve farmers through 122 Agricultural Retailing shops currently operating in the five northern provinces of Afghanistan.
Improving Access to Quality Infrastructure
Through IDEA-NEW’s construction of micro-hydro power units (MHPs), ACDI/VOCA has supplied inexpensive electrical power to remote communities, encouraging alternative industries such as handicrafts, and enabling children to study in the evening. Twenty MHPs have been completed in two provinces. A total of 3,815 households have received electricity to light their homes during night and now they have extra time to read and perform household businesses. Since the beginning of the program, cash for work projects have provided 37,940 Afghanis with skilled and unskilled labor opportunities and 73,033 households have benefitted from infrastructure projects.
Helping Home-based Businesses
The carpet-weaving and silk production industries are two of the most important home-based industries in the north. ACDI/VOCA worked with an Afghan women-owned handicrafts company to train 600 vulnerable poor women in northern Afghanistan on new yarn-spinning methods, sorting and cleaning of wool and marketing skills. Upon completion of the training, the women were supplied with spinning wheels to continue applying their new skills to increase production and potential revenue. By imparting skills and expanding access to resources and local markets, the project is encouraging financial independence and enterprise sustainability. In supporting the silk industry, ACDI/VOCA has distributed silkworm eggs to 2,400 women as part of training on silkworm rearing and works closely with the provincial level agricultural ministry on the production of silkworm eggs. The program also works closely with a woman-owned silk production business in Mazar that has been highly successful and purchases silk from female producers in the region.