Global Agriculture

Afghanistan: Community-based FAO irrigation project receives support from Japan

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31 August 2023, Afghanistan: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with the Government of Japan has launched a four–year project that aims to increase the amount of irrigated land, boost local food production and strengthen the food security and livelihood resilience of more than 12 600 vulnerable people in the Kunar province of eastern Afghanistan.

Facilitated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the $9.5 million project will also provide direct environmental benefits to local communities, helping to protect fragile rangelands and recharge vital groundwater resources, which are particularly important in the context of the increasing impacts of the climate change.

Access to water is critical in Afghanistan, a country where more than 70 percent of food production depends on irrigation.

The project will rehabilitate the existing Nurgal irrigation canal in Kunar province, improving both the quantity and reliability of irrigation water for agricultural production and increasing the total command area – the agricultural land irrigated by the canal – by 70 hectares to a total of 643 hectares, leading to both increases in overall agricultural production and increases in productivity of at least 12 percent.  Importantly, the project will enable poor food insecure rural households to plant two crops a year, rather than just a single wheat crop, boosting incomes, resilience and food security. 

The project will also deliver benefits to communities, helping to protect more than 2 000 hectares of fragile rangelands through improved and adapted plant varieties.  The project builds on and enhances the Green Ground Project initiated in 2003 by Tetsu Nakamura and Peace (Japan) Medical Services (PMS) to build irrigation systems in the Kunar River Basin. By 2023, the PMS project has transformed 23 800 hectares of abandoned arid farmlands back to green fields. Over 650 000 people have benefitted from this project.  

Takashi Okada, the Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan said: “The drastic change by the Green Ground Project brought not only food, water and livelihood but also hopes to people. The success is a testimony to the hard work and resilience of the Afghan people. Japan will work together with FAO on this Dr. Nakamura’s legacy project to enable local communities to manage precious water resources and develop sustainable agriculture. Japan will continue to support Afghans to help themselves so that they can rebuild their livelihood and once again stand on their own feet.”

Richard Trenchard, FAO Representative in Afghanistan said: “FAO appreciates the continuous and timely support of the Government of Japan in advancing agriculture, supporting irrigation, bolstering food security, and enhancing livelihoods of local communities across many parts of Afghanistan. Water is life.  Water is food.  Access to irrigation is ever-more important across Afghanistan, particularly for poor food insecure rural households.  Given the evolving impacts of climate change  on rural areas, Japan’s generous assistance will significantly boost the agricultural productivity of the most vulnerable, marginalized and food insecure farmers, strengthening both food security and livelihood resilience, and will help protect fragile rangeland and groundwater resources. Moreover, empowering local communities to address water management challenges not only improves social cohesion but also reinforces community ownership and the sustainability of project outcomes,” he added.

Optimizing irrigation infrastructure to enhance food security

The project will focus on sustaining functional irrigation facilities, encompassing intake weirs, control gates, cross-drainage structures, culverts, dividers, supper passages, sediment pond structures, regulating gates, and restoration of secondary/tertiary canals in line with the ‘PMS Method Irrigation Project Guidelines’.

As an integral component of the project, the watershed management and rainwater harvesting activities will focus on the flood management and the mitigation of rapid rainwater flows in catchment areas. These efforts will involve the planting adaptable plants, construction of water ponds, check-dams, and other measures for effective rainwater harvesting.

FAO’s work in in Afghanistan

FAO is dedicated to enhancing resilience in all 34 provinces of the country, strengthening efforts to preserve and revive agricultural livelihoods and local ecosystems. These efforts include improving the production of nutritious foods, increasing cash incomes, and safeguarding the critical agriculture sector including the revitalization of rural markets and the economy.

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