CHALLENGE Afghanistan is an overwhelmingly rural country. More than 80 percent of Afghans live in
Residents improving an irrigation canal in Mehterlam District. This project will help to improve the arid land seen in the background.
farming villages, and 75 percent of all residents depend on arable land for their livelihoods. When asked about this land, subsistence farmers are quick to talk about crop yields. Farmers who have moved past subsistence agriculture often see land as an asset in its own right. At the same time, agricultural gains are narrow and can be easily lost. Seasonal volatility in crop yields can push a farming community from profitability to subsistence in a single season. This uncertainty hinders the creation of new, viable enterprises such as food processing operations, which can push a community toward stable, long-term growth.
INITIATIVE From April to August 2011, USAID and its implementing partner, Central Asia Development Group, launched an extensive project to improve irrigation in the Mehterlam District of Laghman Province. The project workforce rebuilt 17 of 24 canals in major disrepair, providing a permanent fix to serious problems related to Mehterlam’s irrigation network. These repairs ensured the productivity of 21,000 acres of farmland while diminishing the interruption of farming activities resulting from annual floods. They also enabled irrigation of 3,150 acres of arable land that was previously lost to flooding.
RESULTS Land values have shown a sharp improvement in the area impacted by the project. Abdul Ali, a laborer working at one of the worksites, said that irrigation projects have created a new understanding of land as an asset: “A friend of mine bought one quarter acre of land a few years ago for $1,500. Now that the land has been improved with proper irrigation, it is worth four or five times more. That quarter acre is now worth roughly $4,500.” Residents suggest that increased land values will have a long-term beneficial impact on business.
“We know of one person who started an ice manufacturing business and another who is now producing talc because of land mortgages. In the past, you needed a great deal of land to make this work,” said Ali. “Now, with improved irrigation and better water, you can get some good money if you have even an acre or two. Farmers who are taking mortgages will create businesses and improve jobs here for years to come.”
Business Grows on Irrigated Land