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Bilde: Empowering communities is also about letting go  
Foto: Halvard Hjermundrud

Empowering communities is also about letting go

We are facing a global shift in funding from long-term development work, to short-term humanitarian response. As a counter point, NAC supports long-term sustainable approaches to development through micro, macro and meso-level interventions.

Prosjekt/ mandag 31. juli 2017

Sustainable change – a long term process

Although humanitarian response is important, an overemphasis on this type of funding and support works against longer-term, sustainable development, especially in countries like Afghanistan that are experiencing protracted conflict and recurrent disasters. The result on the ground is an increasing pressure to implement ‘quick fix’ solutions for complex challenges.

As a counter point, NAC supports long-term sustainable approaches to development through micro, macro and meso-level interventions. The following ‘success story’ highlights an example of NAC’s endeavors in this area.

For more than a decade, NAC has been working to build the capacities of government and community partners in sustainable greening and gardening initiatives. This has been rewarding, but challenging work! The true test of sustainability is if NAC’s Afghan partners manage to continue these initiatives after they are handed over.

Handing over Dashut-i-Qurogh farm to the University of Badakhshan

In 2005, NAC worked with local government in Faizabad, Badakhshan, and the University of Badakhshan, on a farm development initiative. The University has more than 4000 ethnically diverse students, mostly from Badakhshan and nearby provinces. Students study in faculties of Agriculture, Literature, Economics, Social Sciences, Computer Science and Journalism.

The Dashut-i-Qurogh farm initiative was designed to:

• improve the environment to support a greener, healthier community;

• raise awareness and positively change people’s attitudes about environmental issues;   

• promote new, adaptable agriculture technologies;

• reduce risks of natural disasters; 

• be sustainably developed after handover to Afghan partners.

To reach these goals, NAC entered into lengthy negotiations with local government authorities and in 2005, secured 114,000 square meters of land for the initiative in Faizabad City.

At first, the land was dry like a desert and so NAC trained and supported a local farmer and gardener (who is still working there) to turn this barren land into a working farm. During NAC’s management of the project from 2005 to 2014, the following activities and developments took place:

• 305 people were employed (as day laborers and  engineers);

• each year, NAC brought thousands of new trees, of many different varieties from other provinces – these trees were planted on the farm and also distributed to other districts;

• yearly, an average of 20,000 saplings (fruit and non-fruit) were planted – saplings matured within three years;

• after maturation, the trees were distributed to local government institutions in different districts;

• in addition, NAC’s agriculture expert trained relevant local community members in agriculture and community farming practices;

• the community-based nursery and gardens were expanded;

• the farm became popular as a community picnic area and community members were able to use the fruit produced by the trees.

In 2014, seeking to empower local partners in line with our integrated approach to rural development, NAC handed over the management of the farm    to the University of Badakhshan, although we have continued to support the initiative.

Dashut-i-Qurogh farm after the handover

Today when we visit the Dashut-i-Qurugh farm to see how things are developing, we are pleased to find a thriving farm which is at the heart of the university community.

Reflecting on the benefits of the farm, the head farmer, Mr. Ghani explained, ‘This farm has not only benefitted agriculture students. One day I met a student from the Faculty of Literature who was walking in the farm. We became friendly and he began helping me regularly with my farming activities. He gave me a lot of support and gained practical farming experience in the process. After he completed his studies, I heard he had successfully passed an interview for a government agriculture job in another district in Badakhshan. I was so happy for him and found it amazing that this former literature student is now working in agriculture. We are still in touch and recently, he sent me a few pear trees for the farm.’

Strong links have been established between the university’s Agriculture Faculty and Mr. Ghani, the NAC trained farmer. ‘We all benefit from Mr. Ghani’s experience and practices’, sais Mr. Amin, who has been working as the head of the Agriculture Faculty for the past five years. Mr. Amin continued, ‘I am very optimistic about the future of this farm. It is an important place for agricultural research and practical experience, but also an important community space, where students and staff from different ethnic groups, languages and with different ideas come together and learn from each other. I greatly appreciate NAC’s philosophy and practice of partnership with the Afghan community and its successful handing over of this project’.

The farm has become an important green, community space which is highly valued by the local community and a model of environmental sustainability. As, Mr. Salem, a 4th year economics student explained, ‘It’s great having such a green, clean and peaceful place so close to where we live and study. This is so rare to have as cities get more urbanized in our country.’

The sustainable benefits of this initiative extend beyond the borders of the farm, as highlighted by Ms. Parwana, a 4th year agriculture student. She explained, ‘I am one of only 14 women in our faculty of 70, and it’s important that I’ve gotten practical experience on the farm. Working on the farm, I’ve learned adaptable agriculture techniques like pruning and grafting. I’ve applied this knowledge and experience in my home village by training our local farmers. The farm plays a huge role in our university faculty because the Afghan government lacks funding to support this kind of practical fieldwork’.

Community ownership is key to sustainability

The handover of the Dashut-i-Qurogh farm is an important example of the positive impacts of a long-term approach to development which hinges on the step-by-step capacity building of NAC’s Afghan partners to carry forward development initiatives. This process fosters genuine community ownership without which such initiatives are likely to fold when  outside support is reduced.

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