The Role of Civil Society Organizations In Agricultural Development in Afghanistan Post 2001: A Case Study of Afghan Development Association(ADA)


With 47.3% of its population living below the poverty line as of 2020, Afghanistan is among the  poorest countries in the world.[1] Due to decades of war and political instability, Afghanistan’s economy remains damaged and challenged by high rates of unemployment, lack of infrastructure,  insecurity, low domestic production, and illiteracy among others. With underdevelopment in services, infrastructure, industry, and extractive sectors, the Afghan economy remains highly  reliant on agriculture. Accounting for 25.77% of total GDP as of 2019,2this sector employs 42.5%  of the total population in the country.3 Despite many challenges, this sector has also gained  noteworthy achievements, and Civil Society Organizations have played a crucial role in making  this happen. This research paper attempts to study the role CSOs have played in the development  of the agricultural sector in the past two decades. 



Given the fact that 74.24 % of Afghanistan’s population live in rural areas,[2] the agriculture sector supports, directly or indirectly, an estimated 80% of the total population.[3]  Moreover, a marked agricultural growth after the 2017-2018 drought contributed to 3.9 percent economic growth in Afghanistan in the year 2019.[4] Although these statistics indicate the significance of agriculture for economic growth of Afghanistan, the sector remains largely underdeveloped. The main challenges in this sector are water shortages, lack of modern irrigation systems, mechanization, access to genetically modified seeds and fertilizers, and limited access to local and regional markets. In addition, agricultural products are in severe risk of climate change hazards including floods and droughts. Despite these challenges, this sector has also gained noteworthy achievements, and Civil Society Organizations have played a crucial role in making this happen. This research paper attempts to study the role CSOs have played in the development of agricultural sector in the past two decades, and tries to answer the following question: What role have Civil Society Organizations played in the development of agriculture sector in Afghanistan post 2001, and to what extend CSOs addressed the existing challenges in the sector? To answer, this paper presents a case study of an Afghan CSO that has worked in developing agriculture in Afghanistan. In doing so, this paper relies on secondary data including reports by international organizations and the Afghan government, news articles, and previous research studies. Following paragraphs present firstly an overview of the sector in general and the role of Afghan Development Association in particular.


Agriculture Sector in Post 2001 Afghanistan: An Overview

Over the past two decades, the Afghan government has paid great attention to development of and investment in the agriculture sector, with support of its international partners. The sector began to revive starting from 2002 after a long period of war and a devastating drought.[5]  The following graph shows the agriculture value added from 2002 to 2019 in billion USD. As it is shown, agriculture value added in the last two decades had an increasing trend. Starting from 2002 the agriculture value added was around $3.55 billion while in 2019 it reached to more than $5 billion. Figure1[6]:


Afghanistan: Agriculture value added, billion USD, 2002 – 2019

The Afghan government from 2015 and 2018,  increased the budget expenditure for the agriculture sector from 69% to 95% which resulted in significant achievements in this sector.[7] Construction of 538 irrigation networks in different provinces as well as creation of 3084 large and small reserves in three provinces of Kabul, Bamiyan, and Parwan are the vibrant examples of agricultural developments in these years.[8] Creation of food reserves not only increased the food security in these regions, but also led to decrease in food waste. For instance in 2018 food waste decreased  from  40% to 5%.[9] Moreover, to enhance the production in the horticulture sub-sector, 67,512 acres of new and old fashioned gardens were newly created or reconstructed.[10] As wheat is the main source of nutrition for Afghans, it has been vastly harvested throughout the country. In 2019, for instance, Afghanistan harvested 5.1 million metric tons of wheat, the biggest since 2006.[11]  In the same year, the total cultivated area  for wheat was 3.3 million hectares, a 1.1 million hectares  increase since 2018.[12] Meanwhile, a total of 216 hectares of flood plains have been stabilized in 15 provinces in order to abate damages from the natural disasters.

Furthermore, since livestock and animal husbandry is also an important contributor to agriculture and rural life, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) has also supported  animal health across the country. MAIL has vaccinated millions of animals across the country over the last decade (report from 2017), including 3,100,000 large animals (cows, horses, camels), and 1,900,000 small animals such as goats and sheep.[13]

In addition to the Afghan government, CSOs have also played a crucial role in the development of the agriculture sector in the past decade. Therefore, they have made an important contribution in the achievements that are portrayed above. To illustrate what role CSOs have played in the development of this sector, this paper presents a case study of one CSO in the development of the agriculture sector the past two decades.

Afghan Development Association: A Case Study

Afghan Development Association firstly started operating in 1990 in Pakistan for Afghan refugees residing there.[14] Right now they are solely operating in Afghanistan and play an active role in rural development and livelihood. ADA is focused on rural livelihood and agriculture rehabilitation. Their main areas of activity are rural livelihood, informal education and schooling, community peacebuilding, humanitarian aids, and disaster risk reduction. ADA is funded by Christian Aid, the World Bank, World Food Program, Chemonics, Ministry of Agriculture, FAO, Ministry of Education and so on.

They are working mostly in the poorest regions of the country focusing on rural livelihood.  According to their yearly report for the years 2016-2018 they have taken significant part in poverty eradication and rural development through implementing rehabilitation and development projects. Thus, the following are a number of their projects that had great impact on development and progress of rural areas and agriculture. Here, I would like to explain four of ADA’s projects:


Rural Agriculture Development Program – South(RADP-S): This project covered 4 provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Helmand.[15] This program was funded by USAID and was designed for 5 years 2014-2018 with focusing on four main factors of wheat, High Value Crops, Livestock and Enhancing Business Environment for agriculture.[16] Aim of the project was food and economic security for rural population and enhancing the licit cultivation instead of poppy and illicit productions. Since the start of the project, 142,985 beneficiary farmers and 28,218 female beneficiaries were trained with skills for better cultivation.[17] As stated in their 2016 annual report “During the year 2016 ADA has trained 27,763 beneficiary farmers in Wheat Value Chain, 29,618 beneficiary farmers in High Value Crops and 20,413 female beneficiaries in Basic Nutrition, Hermetic Storage and PICS Bags and Taraqi Saba Entrepreneurship in Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.”[18] As a result of this project, farmers’ technical knowledge of agriculture and overall agricultural productivity has improved. Moreover, unemployed men and women in these provinces have secured sustainable employment and they have diversified their sources of income.


Supporting Conflict Induced IDPs and Returnees through Appropriate Food Assistance and Access to Agriculture Inputs: This project was implemented during 2016-2017. The project started on 1st October 2016, and ended on 31st March 2017. The goal of the project was to respond to the most urgent needs of conflict induced IDPs and vulnerable returnees through cash assistance and agricultural inputs such as agricultural tools and seeds. This project was implemented in Kunduz province  in Chardara and Imam Sahib districts. The project covered 10,500 individuals as direct beneficiaries and 319,251 as indirect beneficiaries. It was implemented through procurement of 1000 agricultural packages, each package consisting of 50kg wheat seed, 50kg Diammonium Phosphate(DAP) and 50kg Urea fertilizers.[19] As a result of this project, food security in these regions has developed and 1000 agriculture dependent conflict affected families in Chardara district have had access to agriculture inputs for cultivating their land in the next seasonal cultivation .[20] This project helped these conflict affected returnees to generate the food and income of their own.


Laghman Food Security Project; this project started on 1st March 2011 and ended on 28th February 2014. The project was funded by Church World Services/Canadian Food Grain Bank. The direct beneficiaries of this project were 10,563 families.[21] The aim of this project was ensuring food security in Qaraghaiee, Alishang, Alinger, and Dawlatshah districts in Laghman province that have been severely affected by drought and disasters. This project was implemented through agricultural inputs distribution, farming and animal health protection. From 2011 to 2014,  2,057 packages of agricultural inputs, each package consisting 50kg certified wheat seed, 50kg DAP and 50kg Urea both as fertilizers were distributed in these districts.[22] Besides, the same 2,057 number of farmers were trained in wheat production, agronomy, crop management and use of water efficiency by cleaning and desilting 41 canals and Karezes.[23] Moreover, totally 106,920 different animals were treated, 183,984 animals vaccinated and 72,644 animals de-wormed.[24] With the facilitation of agricultural inputs, developed agricultural skills of farmers and  improvement in animal health, the production yield increased, more barren agricultural land brought under irrigation, the mortality rate of livestock reduced and overall food security was ensured in these districts.

Furthermore, since horticulture is an important part of agriculture and it is an essential driver of economic growth in the country, ADA has also implemented projects in horticulture development. The Rehabilitation and Maintenance of Nursery of Qaser-i-Shahi is the first example. This project was funded by the United Nation World Food Program in Jalalabad and Nangarhar provinces from 1st June  to 29th August 2014. This project has shoveled and leveled 10 jeribs of land, prepared and planted 20,000 cuttings in the garden, pruned budded and filled totally 80,000 saplings.[25]  Meanwhile, Support to First Tree Nursery Industry is another horticulture project which was launched on 1st September 2010 and ended on 28th February 2014. This project was funded by the European community through MADERA as the lead organization of the southern Consortium and was implemented in Kandahar, Zabul and Ghazni Provinces.[26] This project had 2,000 as direct and indirect  beneficiary families including both male and female. The main goal of this project was to develop and produce certified free of disease true type fruit saplings for the developing orchard industry in these provinces. Under this project 6 mother stock nurseries and 36 mother stock demonstration orchards have been established in Ghazni, Kandahar, and Zabul provinces. [27] As a result, these Nursery Grower Associations(NGA) were able to grow and supply quality certified and disease free fruit saplings to the market. 



The agriculture sector began to revive starting from 2002 after a long period of war and  drought.  Due to underdevelopment in other sectors, Afghanistan’s economy remains highly reliant on agriculture. Given the fact that the majority of Afghanistan’s population live in rural areas, the agriculture sector supports directly or indirectly, an estimated 80% of the total population. During 2 last decades, the Afghan government as well as Civil Society Organizations have invested and implemented agriculture development projects mainly in rural areas that helped the improvement of agriculture outputs and overall food security in the country. Afghan Development Association in particular, has implemented several projects and had significant achievements in terms of improving food security,  training farmers, providing the agriculture inputs and enhancing the licit cultivation instead of opium in most provinces. Although there have been significant improvements and achievements in this sector, there are still some fundamental and continuing challenges that most people and farmers are facing which threatens the long-term development and sustainability of agriculture output. Traditional, underdeveloped agricultural tools, water shortages, natural disasters and illicit cultivation are among the main challenges in this sector that need further attention of government and CSOs.



  1. Economy of Afghanistan has been largely dependent on foreign aid. Without the engagement of foreign actors as well as Civil Society Organizations it would have not been possible for the previous government to gain the mentioned achievements and developments in the agriculture sector. The current government under the Taliban regime should understand the significance of Civil Society Organizations’ engagement, and pave the ground for foreign actors as well as domestic CSOs to continue their operation in the country. For assisting the Afghan government in creating better policies in agriculture, and addressing the existing challenges, operation of CSOs and NGOs is important in Afghanistan.
  2. Droughts and shortages of water have been the most severe challenge among all others. Right now that the county is in a very critical situation and the economy is dependent on agriculture even more than before, in order to keep this sector running, the current government should pay close attention to water management. Afghanistan as an upstream country has 5 major water basins with 75 billion cubic meters of surface water, but due to poor water management, its transboundary water flows to downstream countries with no use inside the country. This fact indicates that Afghanistan does not have the water availability problem, it rather has the water management problem. Thus it is important for the government of Afghanistan to work on transboundary water management by constructing dams and canals on these basins. Through construction of dams and canals, water shortages in agriculture can be solved to a great extent.
  3. In addition to managing transboundary water, the domestic water stream which is used for irrigation also needs serious reestablishment. 50% of the water used for irrigation is lost due to mismanagement of water distribution between upstream and downstream farmers. The Afghan government, with the collaboration of CSOs active in this area, should work on improving agriculture by investing in a modern irrigation system.
  4. Agriculture productivity growth is based largely on application of technology, and information that can be retrieved from the country’s research and development in this sector. In Afghanistan, however, the agriculture system as well as the agriculture research system is very traditional and underdeveloped.  Both the Afghan government and the CSOs should focus more on establishment of modern agriculture management, capacity building through updating technical skills, participatory approaches and modern agribusiness.


[1] “Poverty Data: Afghanistan.” Asian Development Bank, Accessed April 20, 2021.

[2]“Agriculture and rural development; Rural population as percentage of total population” The World Bank Group, Accessed April 17, 2021.

[3]“Economic and Social Development.” USAID,  REPORT TO THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS,   2020, 138.

[4]“The World Bank in Afghanistan, Country context.” The World Bank Group,  March 30, 2021.

[5] Maletta, Hector. “Agriculture and Food Production in Post-War Afghanistan, a Report on the Winter Agricultural Survey 2002-2003.” Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and  Livestock, and FAO, 2003.

[6]“Agriculture, forestry, and fishing, value added (constant 2010 US$)-Afghanistan.” The World Bank, Accessed July 15, 2021.


[7]“Ministry’s Three Years Achievements (2015-2018).” Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock of Afghanistan (MAIL),  2019.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Agricultural Prospective Report.” National Statistics and Information Authority( NSIA) , 2019. 15.

[12] Ibid 14.

[13] Ibid.

[14]“Annual Report 2016.” Afghan Development Association(ADA), 2016, 3.

[15]Ibid 6.


[17]Ibid 7.


[18] Ibid 7.

[19] “Annual Report 2017.” Afghan Development Association, 2017, 49.

[20] Ibid 50.

[21]“Annual Report 2014.” Afghan Development Association,  72

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid 83.

[26] Ibid 85.

[27] Ibid 85.