Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghan Farmers Say Soybeans Work for Them
Despite the difficulty of introducing alien crops to Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, some farmers in the eastern Nangarhar province say they are doing well out of soybean.
Since 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture has been running a 34 million US dollar programme to encourage Afghan farmers to switch to soybean, and to process and market the crop as a way of improving people’s basic diet. But according to an in-depth report published in Foreign Policy magazine in July, the programme has experienced problems, not least the reluctance of Afghans to switch to the alien taste of soybean flour.
Nevertheless, cultivation continues in a number of provinces, and in Nangarhar at least, farmers interviewed by IWPR seem upbeat about the future.
“Soybean is a good crop and we have gained great benefits from it,” Rahmatullah Saqib, from Nangarhar’s Shiwa district, said. “It also provides us with a good alternative food source at home.”
Abdul Ahmad Luqmani, head of the Ahmad Soybean Processing Company, said the harvest in Nangarhar and neighbouring Laghman and Kunar provinces had risen from 11 tons in 2011 to 40 last year.
Mohammad Hussain Safi, head of the provincial agriculture department, said the authorities had encouraged soybean farming in 14 out of Nangarhar’s 22 administrative districts, and this would be expanded further.
“This is the third year we’ve been promoting soybean cultivation and the results have been very good,” he said.
Abdul Salam Hilali, the local head of Nutrition and Education International, said about 1,200 farmers had been training in raising soybean and were now working in Nangarhar, and smaller numbers in neighbouring Laghman and Kunar provinces – 420 and nearly 280, respectively.
A soybean diet is seen as a shortcut to better nutrition, either on its own or as an admixture to products like wheat flour.
“Soybean is a very beneficial substance in terms of nutrition as it is high in protein,” Dr Khairullah Kheyal said, adding that it was especially good for malnourished children and the sick.
“My baby boy faced malnutrition, so the doctors instructed us to feed him soybean,” said Raz Mohammad, a resident of Jalalabad, Nangarhar’s administrative centre. “Since then, his skin colour has improved and he’s grown teeth as well.”
Aside from its contribution to better nutrition, soybean is among a range of crops that international donors have tried out as a possible substitute for opium poppies. Afghanistan remains the world’s top producer of heroin, derived from raw opium.
According to Nangarhar farmer Abdul Wasay, the economics work out in soybean’s favour.
“I am very happy with soybean as it has great advantages for this society,” he said. “We used to grow poppies, which took a lot of labour with minimal advantages, whereas soybean requires little labour and offers greater economic benefits.”
Akmal Zaher is a student at Nangarhar University and an IWPR trainee journalist.
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