Afghanaid is a British NGO with a Board of Trustees in the UK and a Head Office in Kabul. The organization was originally established in 1983 to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced communities in Afghanistan. The mission of Afghanaid is to assist impoverished rural Afghan communities by building their capacity to enhance their economic and social development in a sustainable and equitable manner with special focus on marginalised groups.
By 1985, Afghanaid was providing emergency relief assistance inside Afghanistan and running a fleet of ambulances across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As fighting became more localised during the early 1990s, Afghanaid began assisting in the rehabilitation of major infrastructures and the re-vitalisation of food production. In 1995, Afghanaid made a strategic shift to a development programme intended to strengthen community self-reliance, and, over time, combined engineering, agriculture, animal husbandry, community infrastructure, vocational training for women, health education, child development and micro-finance in an integrated community development programme. It began this work in Badakhshan 1995, in Nuristan in 1999 and in Samangan and Ghor in 2000. Since 2003, Afghanaid has been working closely with the Government of Afghanistan as an implementing partner for its National Solidarity Programme in the same four provinces. It has also expanded its project work in horticulture, small business development and microfinance.
In 2008, Afghanaid works in over 900 communities implementing the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) and offered a range of livelihoods support to rural communities across 13 districts of Badakhshan, Ghor, Samangan and Nuristan provinces. With the exception of Samangan, these provinces represent some of the most isolated and inaccessible regions of Afghanistan.
The programme covers two major sectors as described below:
A. Local Governance
In partnership with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, (MRRD), Afghanaid implements the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). NSP is designed to alleviate rural poverty and establish a foundation for improved local governance by:
Establishing a national network of elected Community Development Councils (CDCs)
Funding priority subprojects to improve access to social and productive infrastructure, markets and services;
Promoting accountability and wise use of public and private resources.
The CDCs serve as consultative decision-making bodies that include men, women and traditionally marginalized members of the community. Afghanaid trains CDCs to facilitate participative planning processes with community members and to implement and manage priority development projects. CDCs are also trained to report to and represent community members in a transparent, accountable fashion.
In selected communities in the same four provinces, Afghanaid continues to offer technical assistance and training to enhance sustainable livelihoods opportunities. Afghanaid facilitates income-generation, micro-finance, agricultural and animal husbandry extension and other types of training opportunities that contribute to increased food security and encourage rural communities to choose alternatives to poppy cultivation. Because limited access to land and credit are often factors contributing to farmers’ decisions to cultivate poppy, with funding from the EC, Comic Relief, the Diana Fund and other donors, Afghanaid tailors development activities to respond to those factors. Afghanaid provides rural credit, technical assistance for high value horticulture, plus training in value-adding processing of agricultural production and off-farm vocational skills.
1. Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
Afghanaid’s agriculture strategy is to raise farmers’ agricultural income and to address food insecurity. We also aim to encourage the sustainable use of common property resources such as irrigation systems, forests and pastures. The methods have included the trialling and disseminating of improved varieties of cereals, vegetables and fruit, bee keeping, kitchen gardens, food processing and promotion of drought resistant fast-growing trees for construction and fuel.
The animal health component focuses on the treatment and the vaccination of livestock by Basic Veterinary Workers (BVWs). The BVWs are local farmers trained and supervised by Afghanaid’s provincial veterinary doctor and paravets. They operate in their respective villages and charge farmers or livestock owners for the services they provide. Besides training, Afghanaid initially provides them with medicines, vaccines and kits at subsidised rates or free of charge. We are planning to privatise these services over the next two years in line with Afghan government policy.
Inadequate access to credit or savings facilities is a key contributing factor for continued poverty in rural communities and often influences farmers decisions to cultivate poppy. In response, Afghanaid has established three innovative approaches to micro-finance: 1) wheat banks (or gudams), 2)self-help groups (SHG), and 3) credit offered through village organizations and CDCs.
Wheat banks: Wheat banks were established to further a number of objectives. One is to provide improved seed on credit to small farmers. Another objective is to serve as an institution for the transfer of improved agricultural technology to increase food production. Finally, the wheat banks encourage savings for capital accumulation and provide loans to poor farmers to enable them to invest in agriculture and diversify their income base.
Self Help Groups (SHG): Afghanaid’s SHG programme helps small groups of poor men and women to accumulate savings and build confidence to undertake income-generating enterprises. SHG members develop the discipline, trust and experience of saving, borrowing and repaying reliably within a group setting and, through their group, to eventually access finance from state-sponsored banks and micro-finance institutions as they become available. SHGs also provide a vehicle for skills training to group members and enable women particularly to meet together outside their homes, thereby increasing their access to information and awareness of community issues.
Loans through Community Organizations: Over 6,000 families have benefited from loans made through Village Organizations (precursors to CDCs established through NSP) in Ghor province alone. These loans are made in kind on a profit-sharing basis in accordance with Islamic restrictions against charging interest.
3. Vulnerable Groups
Gender: Because of the gender segregation that has long been a feature of traditional culture in many parts of Afghanistan, eight years ago Afghanaid began establishing women’s resource centres (WRC). These centres provided an opportunity for village women to meet and to engage in skill training for income generation, basic health and literacy education at a time when few other options for women were available. WRCs continue to be very popular today. Because women are often constrained from travelling outside their communities, Afghanaid has organized a system of mobile WRCs that move from community to community for six months at a time.
In addition, Afghanaid has been focusing on mainstreaming gender equity throughout its local governance programmes. This entails ensuring that women and men have equal access to project resources and training. To further that goal, women’s CDC sub-committees have been established wherever possible to ensure that women are receiving the same leadership and management training as male CDC members.
Maternal-Child Health: Parts of Afghanistan have the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and one child in five dies before reaching the age of five years. Information about preventative health care precautions and changes in sanitation and hygiene practices are essential for improving these statistics. Afghanaid has developed health education and Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) training to reduce morbidity and mortality amongst pregnant women and children. The training covers reducing the spread of preventable and communicable diseases, raising women’s awareness about the need for supplementary child feeding, immunisation and the risks of drug abuse.
Children’s rights: With funding from Comic Relief, Afghanaid implements an innovative programme that focuses on educating children and other community members on children’s fundamental rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Working through a variety of activities such a story and poem telling, drama and art, this programme also builds knowledge, skills and confidence of children and young adults
4. Productive Infrastructure
Over the past twenty years, Afghanaid has designed and built many infrastructural improvements that have facilitated economic development in the region. In earlier times, it was involved in rehabilitating and upgrading principal trunk roads and bridges to provide economically efficient access to markets and accessibility throughout the year. That work included the repairing and construction of spillways, flood crossings and retaining walls along major trunk routes to help ensure safety and accessibility to heavy transport throughout the year. In recent years, the Government of Afghanistan has excluded NGOs from major infrastructure projects and Afghanaid’s engineers are now working almost exclusively on community infrastructure projects. The work includes developing feeder roads to previously inaccessible communities and helping to rehabilitate and construct community facilities such as irrigation systems, flood protection walls, drinking water supply, and local bridges. Afghanaid engineers have also built many micro-hydro plants to bring electricity to remote village communities along the banks of the country’s rivers.
III Future challenges Like all NGOs operating in Afghanistan, Afghanaid is facing a number of challenges on the security front. Our work in Nuristan has been subject to a number of interruptions because of insurgency problems and there have been temporary suspensions in some districts elsewhere. However, we are fortunate that in Badakhshan, Samangan and Ghor, we have been able to maintain our schedule of operations largely unchanged so far. Last year, we commissioned a review of our security procedures and appointed a senior staff member with responsibility for day to day security management.
On the funding front, Afghanaid is adapting energetically to the new environment which emerged after the establishment of the new government in 2001. Many of Afghanaid’s traditional donors are now channelling the bulk of their funds through the Afghan government and direct funding of NGO projects is becoming more difficult to find. Afghanaid is working closely with the Afghan government as a facilitating partner for its flagship National Solidarity Programme but it is also seeking to raise funds from new sources to maintain its livelihoods programme and its capacity for innovation. It recently adopted a three year fund-raising strategy for its London office, to raise Afghanaid’s profile in the UK and increase the support it receives from the British public.
In the past, when NGOs were the main means of facilitating development within Afghanistan, they were funded by donors to carry out integrated programmes without reference to government. Nowadays, many Afghan government ministries are involved in setting the parameters for development in the different fields in which Afghanaid works. This new situation has required us to develop closer links with government and closer knowledge of government policy. This makes the development of programme strategy and planning more complex and challenging. We have also recently expanded our contract work in the field of horticulture, sustainable development and micro-finance for donors like USAID and the EC, which has required new project management skills.
Afghanaid is fortunate that it can call on the expertise of many dedicated Afghan staff. It has long been committed to a programme of Afghanisation and to the decentralisation of our work as far as possible to the provincial level. Out of 400 staff, only a few are expatriates and our provincial work is implemented entirely by senior Afghan managers. Our continued success as a single country international NGO depends on our ability to develop our staff and our expertise and to find new ways of working with Afghan civil society and of funding our work in today’s challenging environment. Advocating the cause of the Afghan poor to the British government and to a variety of other donors remains a key part of meeting this challenge.