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ICRC agriculture programme in Afghanistan

15-12-1999 Operational Update

Since 1986 the ICRC has been present in Afghanistan and has maintained sub-delegations throughout the country. Its principle activities include, support to medical structures, assistance to the most vulnerable, rehabilitation of agricultural land, veterinary programmes, visiting detainees and in the framework of the ICRC's mandate, the promotion of humanitarian law and rules, with the co-operation with the Red Crescent Society in Afghanistan.

The Agriculture Programme


Most of Afghanistan'regions are characterised by very aggressive windy and dry climatic conditions, in which irrigation is compulsory for obtaining a suitable agricultural production. A large network of underground channels (karezes) and of open-air canals have been developed, sometimes over many centuries, and regularly maintained by traditional user's organisations. These infrastructures have been neglected during the war, or even destroyed by bombs in some areas. Their rehabilitation, specially for the fallen down karezes, is a huge work which is beyond the capacity of the local communities.


There are five central activities which aim to target areas where refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP's) are returned or are expected to return:

  • the rehabilitation of crucial irrigation systems (as m/a), such as ca nals and karezes (large scale underground traditional irrigation systems, which have been devastated throughout most of Afghanistan.) Today delegates and local staff of the ICRC rehabilitate around 400 systems per year, a figure which is steadily increasing, and employs thousands of Afghans in the reconstruction process on a food for work (FFW) basis. Scheme could have as many as 6'000 workers

  • large scale distribution of seeds and seedlings such as improved quality wheat and potatoes, and a range of fruit trees and vegetables

  • a large distribution of agro-tools complementary to the seeds distribution

  • plant protection projects provide essential insecticides and pesticides for orchards and other crops

  • training programmes are organised for beneficiaries in order to redress the drain of knowledge which has steadily seeped from communities over the last turbulent twenty years.

Currently, twelve ICRC agronomists are working with over 50'000 beneficiaries in various areas of activity.

 ICRC 1999 Agricultural Programme (01-01-1999 to 31-10-1999)  



 Unit Measurement  

 Direct Beneficiaries  

Canal and Karez rehabilitation



Area irrigated (per ha)



Veg. seeds (per ha. planted)



Seedlings (per ha. planted)



Seed potatoes (mt)



Plant protection (per ha)



Nurseries (fruit, non-fruit)



Second crops (kg: maize, pulse)



Improved wheat seeds (mt)



Training courses



* 200 will be completed by the end of the current year


Through its agro programme, the ICRC gives the most needed farmers the basic means to restart producing and consequently to increase the quantity of food available in the market.

ICRC Agro activities in north-eastern Provinces

Six canals on the length of 40 km were rehabilitated and reconstructed in different parts of Parwan and Kapisa provinces, that a total of 6613 workers worked for more than 79 days under food for work programme. Meanwhile 45 workers worked 252 days under food for work programme to clean and rehabilitate 34 km Karezes mainly in Panjsher valley, Kapisa and Parwan Provinces and Tagab district.

Apart from that 25 MT of improved wheat seed, fertiliser was distributed to the needy farmers for cultivation. As well as insecticide and pesticide sprayed on vineyards and orchards in Parwan and Kapisa provinces.

Eight canals of 66 km total length were cleaned and rehabilitated in Badakhshan and Takhar provinces where 283 workers worked for 96 days under food for work programme. Meanwhile 1000 agro tools and various vegetable seed and improved wheat seeds were distributed to the needy farmers families in Takhar and Badakhshan provinces.


 Zaki receives agro-tools  

" A sickle may be worth nothing, but only if you can afford to buy one " , maintains an 18-year-old farmer standing with his shovel in a four-acre farmland he is pleased to own in a small village in Kohistan district of Kapisa province in the Northeast of Afghanistan.

Zaki, the head of a six-member family, has turned out to be the poorest among his fellow-farmers, who depend mainly on their agricultural produce for earning their livelihood.

His family, like the 15 others in Mohd Yakhel village, had long been suffering crop failure mainly owing to the destroyed water canals, non-affordable fertiliser and lack of improved wheat seeds.

Nevertheless, the plight, according to Zaki, underwent major improvement this year due to rehabilitation of a main irrigation system by the'Red Cross'.

" Red Cross distributed to us new agricultural tools, fertiliser, and improved wheat seeds at the beginning of this year. An increase by half (50%) in our harvests this year was not accidental " , Zaki says.

According to the Head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Gulbahar, Hans-Peter Giess, the ICRC has just finished cleaning of another irrigation system in the same district, which had been left untouched for the past 20 years.

" In the present institution, a minimum of assistance produces quickly far-reaching results, especially with good farmers like in the Shamali. " Hans-Peter Giess notes.

Provided, perhaps, with what was beyond his reach, Zaki is very much grateful for the assistance. It is felt through his saying that: " A sickle may be worth nothing, but only if you can afford to buy one " .

 Ref. LG 1999-212-ENG