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Afghan Farmers Turning Mines to Vines

Convincing Afghan grape growers to cut off 11 of the 13 canes on each grape vine was not an easy task for Afghan extension agents in the Roots of Peace organization. This process, known as trellising, ultimately leads to bigger, healthier grapes, as the farmers soon learned. In its first year implementing this Food for Progress (FFPr) program, Roots of Peace convinced 18 farmers to utilize their technical assistance. After this, participation in the program took little convincing: 180 farmers sought their help in the second year, and over 3000 are signed up for this year.

Through a Foreign Agricultural Service-administered FFPr donation, Roots of Peace monetized 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour to fund their training, technical assistance, marketing, and credit programs. Farmers in Afghanistan face many challenges, but with help from USDA and the Roots of Peace organization, many have been able to double and sometimes triple their incomes, from around $800 per year to a net income of around $3,500.

Here’s how it works:

In order to earn the trust of farmers, Roots of Peace plants demonstration crops and also leads trips to other parts of Afghanistan where trellising practices have been in place for many years. This can be a challenge. As described by Roots of Peace Executive Director Gary Kühn, “They’re conservative; like most farmers in the world, they want to see it in place in their region first.” Once the farmers get on board, Roots of Peace trains native Afghan extension agents who go from farm to farm delivering tools and teaching.  These trainings take place throughout the year in coordination with the growing cycle- pruning, trellising, fertilizing, and harvesting.

In addition to boosting production, Roots of Peace also assists on the marketing side. They help the farmers organize associations that provide a centralized place for traders to come and make deals instead of having to travel from farm to farm. Roots of Peace also provides credit to some of the traders, allowing them a few thousand dollars in capital to purchase the products that they bring to market.

The fresh grapes and raisins are then exported to surrounding countries, where they can be sold in markets that pay higher prices for higher quality. A farmer selling fresh grapes makes double or triple what he would growing wheat—and significantly more than if he were growing poppies.

The security situation in Afghanistan has forced Roots of Peace to operate flexibly. While the Taliban in the region may be suspicious of foreign non-governmental organizations, “there’s no question the farmers want us there,” said Mr. Kühn, referring to the waiting lists of farmers that would like Roots of Peace training. The organization’s founder Heidi Kühn sees security as the project’s success. “The farmers tell other farmers and elders in other villages, and that’s part of our protection. They see the success and how it’s helping their families,” she said.

An Afghan farmer inspects fresh grapes before the harvest.

An Afghan farmer inspects fresh grapes before the harvest.

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