Helping to improve food security in Afghanistan

Farmer's hand harvesting grapes using knife (USAID)
With USAID assistance, a farmer learned to trellis grapes above the ground to improve the harvest. (USAID)

A farmer in Kandahar saw his grape harvest double when he started growing his grapes on vines raised above the ground, rather than on earthen mounds, as he had been doing.

He learned this trellising method from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Many Afghan farmers face seemingly insurmountable challenges: decades of conflict, severe drought, restrictive financial regulations and limited access to markets and resources.

With USAID’s help, the Kandahar farmer was able to convert fallow land to a lucrative vineyard, improve his family’s finances and reduce food insecurity.

USAID gave him and other farmers and their families training, tools and ultimately knowledge to withstand recurring shocks so they can provide for their families. Women-headed households, herders and smallholder farmers are among those getting assistance.

Teaching new methods

Growing grapes on earthen mounds, a tradition that dates back millennia, puts the grapes in direct contact with moisture and pests and reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the fruit. With USAID assistance, farmers learn that modern trellising avoids these problems.

While skeptical at first, another grape farmer in Balkh tried the technique. “I saw the benefits of trellising at another farm and I knew this would make my vineyard more profitable,” he says.

Vineyard with concrete posts (USAID)
Trellising is the use of concrete posts and steel wire to raise grape vines above the ground to protect the fruit. (USAID)

Since August 2021, the agency has helped nearly 2,000 farmers across Afghanistan grow high-value crops, increasing their harvests and income.

The assistance is part of President Biden’s efforts to to address the immediate and long-term effects of the global food security crisis. Biden announced over $2.9 billion in new food security assistance during the U.N. General Assembly in September. That includes $2.14 billion in new commitments from USAID.

U.S. food security assistance makes a tangible difference. When USAID’s Agriculture Marketing Program surveyed a farmer’s land as part of the trellis preinstallation process, they found that it lacked sufficient irrigation. After installing a solar irrigation pump, his harvest yields have dramatically increased.

With the income from this year’s harvest, the farmer plans to refurbish nearby bridges destroyed by war and build a wall around his vineyard for protection.

“My farm was a desert before [the program] came here,” he said. “In two years, it has become a paradise.”

A version of this story previously appeared on USAID’s Medium page.