This project aims to improve the livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers in the mixed crop/livestock areas of Afghanistan that have limited access to water. The project will increase the availability of feed resources adapted for areas with little access to water.
This project develops economically viable and sustainable forage production systems to reduce winter feed gaps in the water constrained provinces of Baghlan and Nangarhar.
Shortages of forage limit animal productivity and put households at economic risk, particularly over winter. Producing and marketing sustainable forage is not economic because farmers lack quality seed of improved forage varieties, seed and fodder markets function poorly, and national policy is biased towards producing strategic food crops.
This project will enhance national uptake of research outputs through linking national and international research systems and input, marketing and service providers. Women play important roles within integrated crop and livestock production systems; in developing socially sustainable forage production systems, this project will ensure equitable access to knowledge, public and private services.
This four year research project was designed to test, evaluate, produce and disseminate a ‘best practice’ package for forage production in the Baghlan and Nangarahar provinces of Afghanistan with a specific goal to improve the livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers in the mixed crop/livestock areas which have limited access to water resources. The project has four main objectives that can be summarized as 1) to characterize the constraints leading to nutritional gaps, 2) Evaluate forage and fodder production options for smallholder livestock systems 3) Incorporate feed and forage seeds into the existing community-based seed enterprises and 4) Capacity building in forage and livestock systems research.
The project inception workshop took place with the attendance of all stakeholders from Afghanistan and Australia as well as ICARDA’s staff on 5-6 March 2014 in Dubai. At the instigation meeting, the annual work plan was discussed extensively. Further project activity planning for 2014-2015 has been under development. Currently, an agro-ecological characterization including the main climatic, edaphic and agronomic constraints is in progress and we expect detecting the nutritional gaps and identifying appropriate technologies to overcome this situation. A baseline survey to characterize the forage and forage seed production and market was developed by the project team. The training activity of the enumerators is scheduled for mid-June in Amman and Kabul. A literature review on forage and livestock production and biophysical characterization of target areas to describe the feeding systems in each province is in process.
For the evaluation of forage and fodder production options for smallholder livestock systems, a total of 14 improved cold and drought tolerant forage crops with several varieties from ICARDA and Turkey were sent to Afghanistan in July 2013 before the official commencement of this project to not to lose a whole growing season. The seeds of forage crops were planted in Baghlan and Nangarhar Provinces of Afghanistan for the preliminary evaluation (cold tolerance, biomass production, seed production etc.) and multiplication of the seeds. In addition, improved varieties of potential forage crops and shrubs will be sent by CSIRO and DAFWA scientists from Australia in June 2014.
The development of the project team in Kabul has been taking place. For this, Mr. Esmati holding and MSc diploma from UK was hired as National Project Coordinator and Mr. Noorul Haque as Nangarhar site coordinator.
Year 1 (2014-15)
Project activities are being built upon the ICARDA IFAD funded Dairy Goat project, where several forage species have been evaluated for small ruminants feeding. The initial outcomes of the crop/varietal evaluation trials are being taken up for wider dissemination under the ICARDA IFAD funded CLAP project. The project activities have been linked with ICARDA ACIAR funded Catchment Management project in Nangarhar and Bamyan province for developing rangelands, shrubs and forage crops in a watershed based approach. The capacity development activities of stakeholders are being jointly organized under the three projects.
A number of activities on the characterization of the forage based crop-livestock production systems in the target project sites, procurement of the potential forage seeds of several origins, multiplication of the seeds and preliminary evaluation of the forage crops and capacity building on baseline survey, forage production and research were planned for first year of the project. Progress was made on several activities regarding the development of the project team, characterization of the sites, procurement and multiplication of the forage seeds, establishment of the on-station experiments and capacity building and dissemination. The development of the project team was finalized. Mr. Esmati who has MSc from the UK was hired as National Project Coordinator. National research staff, Shakeb Ahmad (Nangarhar) and Mohammad Azam (Bahglan) from Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) of Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) were identified counterparts in the project. A baseline survey to characterize the forage production in view of climatic and agronomic constraints leading to nutritional gaps and identify appropriate technologies in mixed crop-livestock farming systems of Afghanistan was conducted in Baghlan and Nangarhar Provinces. In addition, a literature review on forage and livestock production and biophysical characterization of target areas to summarize crop, forage and animal production systems was prepared.
Improved varieties of forage and shrub seeds were obtained from different origins. In addition to a total of 14 forage cereals and legumes with several varieties from ICARDA and Turkey that were sent to Afghanistan in July 2013 prior to the official commencement of the project, another 50 improved potential forage and dual purpose crops from Australia, Canada, the USA, Turkey and The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) were included in the germplasm in Afghanistan. Preliminary evaluation and multiplication of the seeds of initially sent 14 forage crops were realized over the 2013-2014 growing season. Furthermore, 18 shrub species from Australia and ICARDA were planted in trays for seedling production. Two cereal-forage legume rotation experiments, three winter cereals-forage legume mixtures and sowing rate experiments and five forage variety trials were established in Sheeshambagh (Nangarhar) and Poze-i-Eshan (Baghlan) Research Stations in autumn 2014. Another set of forage and forage based ruminant feeding experiments (four experiments) were established at Bahri Dagdas Int’l Agricultural Research Centre (mirror trial site).
Regarding the training and dissemination activities, one poster paper on the key constraints of the crop-livestock production systems of Afghanistan and the significance of forages for the solution was presented at Small Ruminants Congress that was held in October 16-18, 2014, Konya, Turkey. A 2 day training course on the baseline survey and forage production and basic forage experiments was undertaken on 20-21 October 2014 in Kabul. Another training course on forage production and forage experiments was given to the Animal health program team (13 members) of MADERA. A one week practical and theoretical training course on forage production and basic forage experiments was undertaken on 18-22 May in Konya Turkey. A total of 10 ICARDA staff was trained in the course. One ICARDA staff also attended on Variety Maintenance and Small-Scale Seed Enterprise Development and Management course, 04-15 May 2015, Rabat, Morocco.
Two field days were organized on 3 - 5 of May 2015 in Baghlan and Nangarhar Regions. A total of 80 farmers, NGOs staff, extension workers, students of Faculty of Agriculture and ICARDA staff attended the field day in Nangarhar, while the number of participants was 65 in Baghlan.
Year 2 (2015-16)
As early as December 1979, national surveys highlighted animal malnutrition as a key livestock “disease”. More contemporarily, ACIAR submissions to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in August 2012 suggested that approximately 8 million Afghan households were dependent on crop-livestock production systems, but constrained by a lack of feed sources to effectively support existing livestock populations.
In line with these concerns, a key objective of this initiative is to develop economically sustainable forage production systems in order to reduce winter feed gaps within the water constrained provinces of Baghlan and Nangarhar. This is being achieved through the deployment of an innovation systems approach to enhance broad uptake of research outputs through more effective linkages between national and international research systems and pluralistic (public, private, civil society) input and service providers.
Despite security related concerns, which have affected timely access to the field, project staff and partners have been able to deliver on a significant number of commitments over the period of July 2015 to June 2016. Key activities undertaken include:
1. Two winter cereal-forage legume mixtures and sowing rate experiments established at Sheshambagh (Nangarhar) and Poza-i-Eshan (Baghlan) research stations. In seeking greater collaboration with the ACIAR supported ‘Catchment Management’ (watershed) initiative, a forage trial was additionally established within Mazari-Sharif province, in order to test the contextual applicability of dryland forages for biomass production and nutritive quality;
2. Annual legumes of Australian origin (24 varieties) are being evaluated for contextual applicability and multiplied at both Sheeshambagh and Poze-i-Eshan research stations; and, within a spirit of collaborative learning and knowledge acquisition, evaluated and multiplied under an IFAD-ICARDA initiative (CLAP) at the Qargha research station (Kabul);
3. 18 perennial shrub species (listed in the Appendix) were obtained from both Australia and ICARDA in order to evaluate their adaptive capability, with seed multiplication undertaken through the establishment of a mother plantation within three research stations: Poze-i-Eshan, Sheeshambagh and University of Kabul;
4. Early engagement of non-governmental and civil society organizations has been initiated through technical training and, while limited in availability, through the delivery of available seed for dissemination.
Through formal in-service training, as well as technical backstopping from ICARDA, CSIRO and Murdoch University scientists, national researchers have sharpened their practical skills on (among others): (i) evaluation of seedling survival rates for annual and perennial forages - germination, field establishment and limiting factors (seed dormancy and temperature); (ii) avenues for addressing issues related to effective on-farm forage and fodder crop and seed production; and (iii) setting up and maintaining on-station and on-farm research trials. Mirror trials in Western Australia and Turkey are providing benchmark indicators under (ideal) production and management practices within similar climates. Comparing benchmark indicators with those obtained within Afghanistan (on-farm, on-station) is helpful in terms of understanding the gap between experiential outputs - obtained within a research environment plagued by continued concerns over security for both project staff and participating farm households - and those obtained under ideal conditions.
Through facilitation of effective linkages between public, private, civil society and national research and extension systems, contextually relevant avenues for fostering broad uptake of research outputs continue to be uncovered, and tested through processes for gender equitable access to knowledge on more effective and profitable production and management practices. In September 2016, two (male) national research staff will undertake a six-week course on forage production, shrub propagation and forage quality testing at CSIRO and Murdoch University. This will be followed by Australia-based training for at least three female farmers (tentatively scheduled for one month in late October), which will impart knowledge on shrub propagation and nursery management, with subsequent training in Afghanistan on enterprise development. Targeting a cohort of farmers, which is often excluded from knowledge-based activities and economic engagement, given embedded socio-cultural norms, this activity aims to: (i) challenge these norms through contextually relevant avenues for women to partake in skills training outside of their communities; (ii) challenge conventional wisdom, which suggests that these norms are immutable to change; and (iii) through case study analysis, to better understand the elasticity of boundaries within which gendered roles in agricultural production are defined; and the nature of potential intra household trade-offs, which are likely to occur from shifting gendered roles.
Initiatives currently undertaken, as well as those envisioned for the next 18 months, continue to build policy-relevant evidence in support of the development of an enabling (policy, institutional, investment and research) environment for economically and socially sustainable forage production systems to take hold.
Given the historical persistence of winter feeding gaps, one key objective of this project is to develop economically sustainable forage production systems within the water constrained provinces of Baghlan and Nangarhar; and through an innovation systems approach, to identify avenues for broad uptake of research-for-development (R4D) processes that support efficacy in the attainment of outputs and outcomes within the provinces of engagement as well as nationally. This necessarily involves:
evaluating the adaptability of promising genotypes and accessions;
demonstrating the validity and potential of these to farmers that are interested in cultivating forage and thereby reducing seasonal gaps in access to feed resources;
identifying avenues to support an enabling (social, economic, policy) environment for gender equitable access to knowledge and resources
Within the first half of this four-year project initiative, 105 genotypes (67 legumes, 17 cereals, 21 shrubs) have been evaluated for adaptation and productivity (measured by biomass and grain yield). From these, 10 promising genotypes are being tested on-station and on-farm in order to generate data to support varietal registration/introduction. Forage shrubs are currently exempt from formal release and introduction protocols. As such, 21 forage shrub accessions/ecotypes (15 from ICARDA, 6 from Australia) have been multiplied on-station for distribution to public agencies, international and national developmental agencies as well as private farmers. Based on interest expressed by national research system counterparts, 140 cladodes of ICARDA cactus accessions have recently been planted on-station in Nangarhar in order to evaluate adaptability and farmer interest.
As the project entered its second half in July 2016, a concerted effort was made in transitioning the research and developmental initiatives towards greater ownership and oversight of national systems of research, international developmental agencies and national civil society organizations. A project working committee comprised of ICARDA and representatives from five departments/institutes from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) has been constituted and is functional. The committee is charged with joint planning, implementation and monitoring of project activities. Equally important is the participation of the seed certification directorate within the project working committee to ensure that the process of varietal registration/introduction of the 10 genotypes being tested is followed in accordance with existing regulations. Where ambiguity exists, there is now potential to effectively obtain clarity on process as well as to suggest recommendations for revision to, or promulgation of, new codes and regulations. Representation of international developmental organizations within the committee has been equally constructive, leading to the distribution of seed to Aga Khan Foundation for collaborative on-station and on-farm research trials within three provinces (Takhar, Badakshan, Bamyan) that are outside of the current engagement in Baghlan and Nangarhar provinces. A similar upcoming engagement with Action Aid promises to further expand the number of provinces within which collaborative engagements between ICARDA, the national research system, international development organizations and civil society organizations are enacted, tested and refined in order to ensure long term tenability.
Security concerns and instability continue to limit the range of research and development activities, as well as the intensity with which activities are being undertaken. To this end, mirror trial sites in Western Australia and Turkey provide safe environments to develop benchmark indicators for productivity and adaptability of tested genotypes in Afghanistan. Equally important has been the ability for the mirror trial site in Turkey to host national Afghan researchers and farmers for training and orientation sessions. In Western Australia, the mirror trial site in Perth has trained two Afghan nationals on important aspects related to seed production, plant evaluation, forage agronomy and basic nutritive assessment. Supporting processes for acquisition of knowledge, as well as dissemination of this knowledge to the wider research and developmental community is ongoing, within an environment where opportunities for professional development and skills enhancement are not widely accessible. An upcoming training for six Afghan females in Perth will develop necessary skills for forage shrub maintenance, nursery management and basic forage agronomy techniques. This is closely linked to the objective within the final stages of the initiative to uncover and foster (gender) equitable and inclusive avenues and approaches for broad uptake of tested forage varieties nationally (upon official release/introduction).
In thinking ahead, the legacy of this project will be defined by the manner in which national systems of innovation have fully understood the need for treating forage crops differently from existing cereal crops - specifically within the framework of national regulations for varietal release/introduction. It will also be defined by the current interactions between international and national system research staff that have impressed on the need for addressing issues of efficacy in research, appropriate planning, effective budgeting; and equally important, the need for stronger linkages with civil society organizations for out scaling of research outputs towards the attainment of desired research and development outcomes. Based on positive experiences through sustained engagement and interaction, the project has made good progress within an environment plagued with limited national capacity (budgetary and other) as well as significant instability.