Afghanistan: Progress despite hardships

Despite many sceptics, Stephane Meaux knew from the start that P4P is just the right initiative for Afghanistan. The French national is leaving Afghanistan, but his heart remains with the farmers and partners of P4P.

Four years ago, Stephane Meaux started to work for WFP in Afghanistan as a Junior Professional Officer funded by the French Government. When he first heard about the possibility of including Afghanistan in the list of P4P pilot countries, Stephane was very excited: “There is a need for a programme like this in Afghanistan”, he says. “Farmers are working very hard, but after years of conflict, they need support and trainings – and the same goes for local traders and processors: they have a vision, but need help to make their dreams a reality.”

P4P in Afghanistan is linking smallholder farmers to the expanding food processing industry. This offers the best opportunity to promote smallholder access to markets, and creates incentives for investments in agricultural production. One way to support the developing food processing industry is through the provision of containerized food processing units – read more about these innovative units in the June 2011 edition of the P4P Newsletter.

Farmers in Afghanistan used to grow wheat only for subsistence, and focused on supplying the high regional demand for a range of quality nuts and fruits. Unfortunately, this profitable export business came to a standstill during the turmoil following the war in the early 2000s. Adding the high drought prone nature of wheat to the equation, diversification has become a must for Afghan smallholders if they want improve their income.

By buying soybean-based products from processors, WFP gives smallholders the opportunity to sell an alternative product to wheat to processors throughout the country. Another product that smallholders can increasingly bring to the marketplace is almonds – almond trees are often part of the farms, but for a long time, there was no demand. As almonds are an important part of locally produced ready-to-use food for WFP’s food assistance programs, farmers now can sell their almonds to the local processors, who then sell the final product to WFP.

Of course, the challenging security situation makes Afghanistan one of the most difficult countries to implement P4P. Where in other countries WFP staff and partners visit farmers regularly to discuss contracts, execute quality checks or conduct trainings, Stephane and his team are restricted to the big cities such as Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif or Herat.

But security is not the only reason for P4P in Afghanistan to mainly work through existing or emerging food processors. Given WFP’s demand for processed foods (mainly high energy biscuits for distribution in the school-feeding programme), and donor investments in food processing, the market for such commodities will be sustainable and offer incentives for smallholders and their organizations to increase their surpluses.

Progress is already visible, and the pilot must continue after his departure, says Stephane: “It takes two or three years to really make all the linkages that are necessary, but I can see already what we have achieved. Farmers are travelling up to 50 kilometres for a meeting with us, often only riding a donkey! That shows how much they expect to get out of P4P. Even when I leave Afghanistan now, I want to continue to help my colleagues there – Afghanistan needs such initiatives.“