Soya production in Afghanistan supports P4P efforts to improve nutrition

P4P-supported smallholder farmers undergo training in order to improve their production of soybeans. Copyright: WFP

In order to reduce malnutrition in Afghanistan, P4P works with Nutrition and Education International to support smallholder farmers and agronomists to produce soya for use in locally-produced nutritious foods. These products will enter into the market in Afghanistan to increase the protein intake and micronutrient absorption of vulnerable populations.

In Afghanistan, micronutrient deficiency is widespread, with 55 percent of children stunted due to malnutrition. In order to improve nutrition, P4P facilitates the local production of fortified flour and other nutritious food using staple crops grown by P4P-supported smallholders whenever possible. One vital component of this work is the development of a market for soya and soya-based products in partnership with Nutrition and Education International (NEI), with financial support from the Republic of Korea. P4P and NEI are engaged at all levels of the soya value chain, working with farmers to expand production, assisting processors to increase capacity and implementing an awareness-raising campaign in order to educate the public about the benefits of fortified soya and wheat blended flour.

Nutritious food produced with smallholders’ crops

The initiative emphasizes soya because it is rich in protein and amino acids, and adding soya flour to micronutrient-fortified wheat flour can also increase vitamin and mineral absorption. In Afghanistan, fortified flour is produced by local millers using the wheat grown by smallholder farmers, who are supported by P4P in collaboration with the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED).  This flour is also used to process high energy biscuits for use in WFP’s emergency programme.

As soya production expands, it too will become a vital component of high energy biscuits, as well as a fortified wheat and soya flour mix. This will boost the effectiveness of these nutritious foods, and provide P4P-supported farmers with a market for their crop. An advocacy campaign carried out in collaboration with NEI aims to raise awareness on the importance of micronutrients and increase demand for locally-produced fortified foods, which will help to develop a sustainable market. The campaign is being carried out in collaboration with the government’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Increasing production of soya

NEI and P4P have supported smallholder soybean farmers with the provision of pre- and post-harvest agricultural equipment to increase their yields and improve crop quality. Over 10,000 smallholder farmers have been organized into associations and trained in soybean cultivation by NEI, including topics such as pre- and post-harvest handling and storage. In 2012, P4P-supported smallholders produced 1,700 metric tons (mt) of soya, which was purchased by NEI, private sector soya flour processors and soybean seed producers. It was also used to supplement nutritional intake at the household level. In order to more effectively utilize their land, farmers will be trained to diversify crop production by producing both soya and wheat. This will allow them to benefit from soya’s capability to enrich soil after it has been depleted by the wheat harvest. At the moment most smallholders produce only one of the two crops. Women’s involvement has been encouraged by P4P and partners, with over 3,200 women farmers supported to grow wheat and soya. Women are also trained to utilize soya flour as well as wheat when preparing naan bread for household use in order to improve nutrition.

In February 2014, a workshop was held to train agronomists on soybean research and production in order to facilitate the development of soybean seed varieties suitable for the climate and soil conditions in Afghanistan. This is expected to have a ripple effect as the agronomists share their learning with the farmers they support. One participant, Mr. Nasrullah, a research agronomist at the Kapisa Farm Service Center, says, “we were given important tools that will help the Kapisa team better train and oversee the 200 farmers producing seeds for the coming season.” Sixty agronomists from 13 provinces participated, including members of the Agriculture Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA), which has worked with NEI to develop and release five new climate-suitable soya varieties since 2005.

Reduced WFP demand encourages sustainable solutions

Though the project has already made significant achievements, challenges still remain. WFP’s reduced demand for high energy biscuits has made for a slow start, as the project lacks the catalyst of an assured buyer procuring large quantities. However, steps towards a more sustainable solution are being taken: it is planned that these nutritious foods, produced by local processors from soya and wheat grown by smallholder farmers, will enter directly into local markets in Afghanistan.