How IFAD Is Helping Boost Agriculture in Afghanistan

In the 1970s, a series of food crises focused global attention and concern on the rapidly growing problems of food insecurity and famine. In response to these challenges, the first World Food Conference was held in 1974. One of the major outcomes of the conference was the establishment of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized United Nations agency, in 1977. Since that time, IFAD has been deeply involved in financing agricultural and food production development projects worldwide, with the goal of ultimately eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.

Although Afghanistan was one of the first countries to join IFAD, development programs that were originally approved for the country in 1979 were not able to be implemented for many years due to conflict and instability in the region. Recently, however, IFAD has been able to support a number of both small- and large-scale efforts to reduce poverty and boost agricultural development in Afghanistan.

Community Livestock and Agriculture Project

Launched in selected districts of three Afghan provinces—Kabul, Parwan, and Logar—the goal of this project was to help close to 170,000 rural households increase their agricultural and livestock productivity, and consequently improve their food security. Targeting small-scale farmers and livestock-keepers, the project aimed to provide support to some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations, including landless households and resettled and nomadic Kuchi people.

Three mutually reinforcing components formed the basis of this project. The first element was community development, focusing on improving infrastructure and helping local organizations and institutions build internal capacity. The second element was livestock and agriculture development, with a strong emphasis on providing marginalized communities and families with critical skills and knowledge to make the most of their assets. This element also aimed to strengthen weak areas of the value chain and reinforce smallholders’ market connections. Finally, project management and policy support made up the third project element, notably in the form of a young professionals program designed to attract and motivate qualified young staff to support the project.

Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support Program

Launched in Afghanistan’s relatively secure and stable northern region in 2009, the Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support program aimed to improve the livelihoods of smallholders and livestock owners living in poverty. Working in partnership with the government of Afghanistan and the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA), IFAD initiated this program to address the dual objectives of meeting demand for rural finance and improving the livestock sector.

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On the finance side, the program aimed to help consolidate recent gains made by the microfinance sector and to connect hundreds of thousands of Afghans with their first opportunity to access credit. Through specific measures like the development of a broader range of financial products and services designed to meet the unique needs of smallholders, or the reduction of lending costs in order to combat high interest rates, the program worked to ensure that even the poorest rural people could have access to microfinance services. Some of the program’s particular innovations included creating public-private partnership models for the delivery of livestock extension and veterinary services, and implementing measures to ensure that even landless people, such as the nomadic Kuchis, could access dairy development initiatives.

The livestock improvement side of the program sought to address the sharp decrease in the number of livestock that had resulted from drought and disrupted grazing routes. With small poultry flocks on the brink of disappearance, poor families having lost their few cattle, and conflicts arising over users’ rights and overgrazed rangeland, the agro-livestock owners and nomadic and semi-nomadic people that relied on the livestock sector as their major source of cash income were at risk of losing their livelihoods altogether. The IFAD program aimed to boost the livestock sector and generate greater income for poor rural households by supporting a number of initiatives, including small-scale dairy activities like milk and fodder production; better livestock nutrition and health services in northern Afghanistan; and activities focused on backyard poultry raising and dairy goat raising.

Other Partnerships and Opportunities

As a relative newcomer to Afghanistan’s development landscape, IFAD is working to establish critical dialogue and alliances with many other organizations on the ground, including government agencies, international donors, research institutions, and NGOs.

In particular, IFAD is aiming to enhance its presence and the scope of its activities in Afghanistan by forming country-level collaborations with the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Programme. IFAD also liaises with the Asian Development Bank to examine opportunities for co-financing and parallel financing arrangements, and connects with bilateral donors to learn from and build on their experiences of working in Afghanistan. Other organizations that have been instrumental in helping IFAD launch its projects include the Aga Khan Foundation, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

What You Need to Know about Babur’s Gardens in the Heart of Kabul

Although Central Kabul may not be the first place where you would expect to see hundreds of springtime roses in bloom, that’s exactly what you’ll find at Bagh-e Babur, also known as Babur’s Gardens. The largest public green space in Kabul—with a history that stretches back more than five centuries—Babur’s Gardens are not only a beautiful and peaceful oasis, but one of the finest living examples of Afghanistan’s commitment to renewing and restoring its cultural heritage. Read on to learn more about this beloved Kabul landmark.

History

Babur History

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Babur, the founder of the eponymous gardens, was born in 1483. A descendent of Genghis Khan and the nomadic leader and conqueror Tamerlaine, Babur became the first Mughal emperor and the head of a dynasty that ruled much of South Asia for two centuries. The Mughal empire consolidated Islam and advanced the reach of Persian arts and culture in the region.

In 1504, Babur captured Kabul, which served as his capital for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast with a passion for flowers and landscape, Babur was personally involved in the design and creation of at least 10 gardens in the city during his time there. The site now known as Bagh-e Babur—one of the oldest surviving Mughal gardens—was previously the location of a monumental building dating back to the third century BC.

Babur died in 1530 in the Indian city of Agra. Prior to his death, he expressed a wish to be buried in Kabul. Around 1544, his widow finally transferred his body to that city, where he was interred in Babur’s Gardens. Historians and archaeologists speculate that the presence of remains of older tombs in the building on which these gardens were constructed may have inspired Babur’s decision to be buried there rather than at one of his many other gardens. As the home of Babur’s tomb, Bagh-e Babur became a symbolic and venerated site during the reign of the Mughals.

Spaces for physical and spiritual refreshment

Gardens hold a special place in Islamic culture. Echoing the ancient concept of paradise as a garden, Islamic gardens are designed as spaces for physical and spiritual refreshment. Key elements of such gardens include flowing water, shade, lush foliage, and perimeter walls. In addition, Islamic gardens follow specific principles in layout, design, and function.

Like other Islamic gardens, the 11-hectare Bagh-e Babur was originally laid out in the charbagh—or “four garden”—pattern: a classical arrangement that divides the enclosed space of the garden into clearly defined quarters through a series of rising terraces intersected by a central watercourse. The prominent central axis of the garden provided a multi-directional vista, and the trees, herbs, and flowers were all carefully chosen.

Decline and restoration

Gardens of Babur

Image by Wikipedia

After the Mughal dynasty lost control of Kabul, Babur’s Gardens fell into disrepair. Repeated alterations were carried out on the site. One of the largest and most disruptive building programs was implemented by Amir Abdur Rahman in the late 19th century. His structural interventions, which included new buildings and landscaping, significantly changed the visual concept and feel of the garden. However, the alterations did not last long, as King Nadir Shah removed the structures in the early 1930s. During this period, the gardens were open to the public complete with European-style teahouses and restaurants. It was this version of the gardens—which sustained heavy damage as a result of looting and vandalism during the long years of civil conflict—that was preserved until the early 2000s.

In 2002, with the support of the Aga Khan Development Network, a comprehensive restoration of Babur’s Gardens was launched. Over the next five years, the majority of the physical work was completed. Improvements included re-establishing the character of the water channels, planted terraces, and pavilions; creating a swimming pool and caravanserai complex; and replanting local species of trees and plants favored by the reigning Mughals when the garden was first built. The plants ranged from roses and pistachios to the distinctive purple-flowered Judas trees.

The future of the gardens

Today, Babur’s Gardens provide a safe, secure, and peaceful urban green space for Kabul’s residents. Since it reopened to visitors in 2008, Babur’s Gardens have attracted more than 3 million visitors who come to enjoy the gardens and the ticketed events and performances that take place there, such as festivals of Pashtun dancing and even Shakespeare performances. At present, the gardens are managed by the Bagh-e Babur Trust with participation from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, the Kabul Municipality, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The idea is that the revenue from admissions to Babur’s Gardens will help the Bagh-e Babur Trust to achieve long-term financial stability and maintain the garden’s landscaping and monuments.

What You Need to Know about Afghanistan’s Amazing Minaret of Jam

Located in the remote and rugged province of Ghor in the west-central highlands of Afghanistan, the stunning Minaret of Jam is one of the country’s most important cultural treasures. But given its isolated location and the risks it currently faces, the monument is one that few people, Afghans or visitors, may ever have the opportunity to see up close. Read on to learn more about this architectural marvel, designated since 2002 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What is the Minaret of Jam?

One of Afghanistan’s best-preserved examples of ancient architecture—and indeed the country’s first historic monument, according to some conservation experts—the breathtaking Minaret of Jam is the second-tallest brick minaret in the world. Built entirely of fired bricks, the structure resembles a fully extended telescope, with four staged columns of decreasing diameter sitting one inside the other. The minaret rests on an octagonal base roughly 9 meters in diameter, and rises to a total height of 65 meters (213 feet).

The outside of the monument is completely covered with highly detailed geometric designs in raised relief. A Kufic inscription inlaid in turquoise tiles adds a striking touch of color. Inside the minaret, a surprise awaits: a pair of staircases entwined in a double-helix pattern that echoes the form of a DNA molecule (a design that predates by hundreds of years the constructions that became popular in European towers during the Renaissance). This remarkable combination of beauty and practicality makes the Minaret of Jam one of the finest examples of both the artistic creativity and the structural engineering skill of its time.

How old is the monument?

Minaret of Jam

Image courtesy Afghanistan Matters | Flickr

The Minaret of Jam is all the more astonishing in view of the fact that it is more than 800 years old. The monument was built in 1194 by Ghurid Sultan Ghiyas-od-din (1153-1203). Today, the minaret is the only remaining monument from the Ghurids, a civilization that dominated the region during the 12th century, ruling an empire that extended from Bengal to Iran. The capital of the Ghurid dynasty was the legendary city of Firozkoh, also called the Turquoise Mountain, which was described as the world’s most splendid city before it was destroyed by a descendant of Genghis Khan. The present-day site of Firozkoh has never been located, but some experts speculate that it may have been in the region around the minaret. Other remains in the area include vestiges of towers and castles from Ghurid settlements east of the minaret and on the banks of the Hari-rud River, and a group of 11th- and 12th-century stones with Hebrew inscriptions located on the Kushkak hill.

The Minaret of Jam was vital to the dissemination of innovative Islamic architecture and ornamentation, and it played a very important role in the development of art and architecture in Central Asia during the period following its construction. The Qutb Minar minaret, a red sandstone tower built just south of Delhi in the early 1300s, is a clear example of the Minaret of Jam’s influence.

According to some accounts, the minaret was forgotten about until its long shadow was spotted by a British aircraft flying over the Hari River gorge in the late 1950s. Archeologists first surveyed and recorded the site in 1957, and the minaret later enjoyed a period of time as a popular destination for intrepid international tourists, including British writers Peter Levi and Bruce Chatwin.

What risks is the monument facing?

In addition to illicit excavations and other potential conflict-related damage, the Minaret of Jam faces a number of serious environmental threats. Given its proximity to the Hari and Jam rivers, erosion and flooding remain constant dangers, as do the earthquakes that strike the region fairly frequently.

In 2013, the Minaret of Jam was placed on the list of “World Heritage Sites in Danger,” and reports from 2014 stated that the minaret was in serious danger of collapsing. For many years, the monument has been precariously tilting at an angle of about 3.47 degrees. For some context, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa once tilted at an angle of 5.5 degrees, which was later reduced to 3.99 degrees after $25 million worth of emergency work. However, although the tilt of the Minaret of Jam is not as severe as that of its Italian cousin, the structure is 30 feet taller than the Tower of Pisa, built of far less sturdy material (fired bricks) than Pisa’s quarried stone, and positioned on a much less stable foundation. The top of the minaret is currently leaning more than 10 feet from vertical.

Despite concern from cultural preservation groups within and beyond Afghanistan, the future of the Minaret of Jam is not altogether certain. UNESCO has carried out some basic stabilization work over the years, including the construction of a new supporting wall, but the location and political climate of the area make it difficult to conduct the full extent of work necessary to preserve the minaret and the surrounding site. Activists hope that more donors will be found to boost conservation efforts by UNESCO and the government and ensure that this important reminder of Afghanistan’s cultural legacy is preserved for many future generations.