Around 76% of the population of Afghanistan lives in rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of livelihood and subsistence. In many rural areas, low crop productivity, cyclical drought and flooding are persistent risks… Widespread vulnerability to poverty, natural hazards and protracted conflict fuel instability and hinder development and economic growth… The country’s extreme winters see many go without enough food, while three decades of war and the appeal of narcotics cultivation have drawn resources away from legitimate cropping. Humanitarian challenges remain significant, with 12% (3.7 million) of the population displaced or ‘of concern’, while each year, an estimated quarter of a million people are affected by natural disasters.
—Aid Investment Plan, Afghanistan, 2015–16 to 2018–19, DFAT
Afghanistan ranks 169 of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2016. Even though mortality rates fell between 2003 and 2015, it has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, one of the highest maternal mortality rates and the third lowest life expectancy in the world.
Many children are chronically malnourished, while many women and children are vitamin and mineral deficient.
More than a third of the population lives on less than US$1.25 a day. Less than a quarter of women and just over half of men can read. More than 87% of women experience some form of violence.
Three-quarters of Afghanistan’s population lives in rural areas, where low crop productivity and cyclical drought and flooding persistently threaten livelihoods and food security. Natural disasters affect 250,000 Afghans in an average year.
The Australian Government is committed to international efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and to ensure security in the country. Australia’s contribution targets three priorities in Afghanistan: agriculture; building resilience; and infrastructure. These aim to give rural populations more access to economic opportunities and to protect their livelihood against shocks.
The situation in Afghanistan is complex and dangerous, with more frequent attacks on foreign establishments and convoys. The Taliban insurgents are increasingly attacking the Afghani Government and media institutions.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) fully funds the three ACIAR projects in Afghanistan, and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) implement them. ACIAR also collaborates and co-ordinates projects with other implementing partners, including government, non-government organisations (NGOs), grower and industry groups, and donor organisations. Running these projects is difficult and expensive, and poor security and political uncertainty limit access by international scientists.
ACIAR’s collaboration with Afghanistan started in 2002 on improving wheat and maize varieties. Wheat is the main crop, but maize is also important in irrigated areas. ACIAR is helping to build capacity, make wheat resistant to wheat, and improve crop management.
Prolonged instability has weakened agricultural institutions and made it difficult for Afghanistan to grow food and raise livestock. ACIAR developed its research priorities through visits by ACIAR’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and other senior staff, and through discussions with leading agricultural research and development (R&D) institutions and government bodies. In 2011, an ACIAR–AusAID (Australian Agency for International Development—now absorbed into DFAT) desk study of Afghanistan’s agricultural R&D priorities recognised that agricultural development was important in reducing rural poverty. It recommended a focus on water-limited (rainfed and poorly irrigated) areas, on making wheat and livestock systems more productive, and on improving water management. Australia supports the Afghan Government’s effort to intensify crop and livestock production.
The ACIAR country program in the medium term will focus on:
- crop and livestock intensification, including managing water better and forages for small ruminants
- linkages between the improvement of wheat varieties and agronomy
- community-based watershed management
- working with established programs in agricultural extension and community development to promote adoption of the research results