The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with the Government of Japan, facilitated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has launched a four–year project with a budget of USD 9.5 million. The project 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 poor food insecure men, women and children in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. The project will also provide direct environmental benefits to local communities, helping to protect fragile rangelands and recharge vital groundwater resources, particularly important in the context of increasing climate change impacts.
Agriculture depends on water. Increasing population and growing climate change impacts make access to water ever-more important across 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, and recharging vital groundwater resources. The project builds on and enhances the Green Ground Project initiated by Dr. Tetsu Nakamura and Peace (Japan) Medical Services (PMS) to build irrigation systems in the Kunar River Basin from 2003. By 2023, the PMS project has transformed 23 800 hectares of abandoned arid farmlands back to green fields. The beneficiaries have been over 650 000 people.
While addressing the attendees at the project signing ceremony today at the ICON compound, H.E. Takashi Okada, the Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan, stated, "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."
“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”, said Richard Trenchard, FAO Representative in 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 impacts 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 establish and optimize the national capacity in managing and utilizing irrigation systems, employing the PMS method. Through the PMS method, the project will promote informed community-based sustainable practices to improve traditional irrigation infrastructure, ensuring a reliable water supply to downstream communities that rely on irrigation for their livelihoods. 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. The interventions will be determined through consultations with community representatives to optimize canal conveyance capacity, thereby ensuring a reliable water supply within the targeted irrigation systems.
PMS experts will train more than 100 local technical experts in the PMS method. Moreover, 110 water users from the community will receive trainings in operations and maintenance, enabling them to manage the irrigation systems effectively and sustainably, ensuring long-term results and impacts.
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 includes various facets, such as improving the production of nutritious foods, increasing cash incomes, and safeguarding the critical agriculture sector developments achieved over recent decades through the revitalization of rural markets and the economy.