A Rural Support Programme is needed in Afghanistan to empower the people and motivate them to help themselves for overcoming the problems of poverty, insecurity, lack of capacity and instability that are compounded or indeed dwarfed by the lack of a coherent strategy.
The presence of a Rural Support Program in Afghanistan is necessary both at the system as well as at the micro/community level to provide support to households for rebuilding their livelihood systems, and paying greater attention to the new role of women in the new government in the aftermath of war. At the system level capacity building support for the government departments is a must to sustain the positive outcome of community development investment at the grassroots level.
Such a programme will help the people build their skills and work on income generating activities. Unsurprisingly, the macro and micro interact. Small farming (or herding) households are historically central in the Afghan culture. It is central not simply to their own subsistence but to urban food and raw material supplies, urban goods and services markets, indirect tax revenue and exports. Revival of the small farming households is, therefore, strategically, macro-economically as well as socially and politically important. However, this is impossible without the establishment rural support programs with a broader mandate and substantial investment.
The team recommends that:
- A non-governmental, nonprofit, and non-partisan Afghanistan Rural Support Programme should be launched for working with the government at the system level and with the communities at the grassroots level. This is needed to change the existing concept of rehabilitation in Afghanistan and set the foundation for the return on future community development investment in Afghanistan. There is a need to reconsider rehabilitation by moving beyond the relief-oriented, supply-driven approach to rehabilitation. This can only be done through social mobilization and capacity building at the grass roots level and helping the government strengthen its capacity for service delivery. (see Annex I for details)
- At the system level, the primary focus at the system level should be to strengthen the policy and legislative framework to enhance the institutional setups and national fiscal transfer system in the sector. It also needs to support a comprehensive human skills development, as well as enhance civic participation mechanisms in the local government sector.(see Annex II for details)
- At the community level, the proposed program needs to raise productivity by introducing technical innovation in the production of food and cash crops; and help to link smallholder farmers with traders and agro-processors to strengthen agricultural markets.(see Annex III for details)
- Rural communities face significant financial challenges and have very limited opportunities to save or obtain loans. They need access to finance. Based on the experience in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, the proposed Afghan rural support program would need to help in improving rural households’ financial management by providing new ways to managing household cash flow. Micro-lending would be required to help rural communities with purchase of supplies, such as tools or fertilizer, which they can use to increase agricultural productivity and household income from agriculture.
- The recommended Rural Support Programme needs to provide the framework for reviving livelihoods and civil institutions previously suppressed, eroded or rendered powerless by war, with the aim of strengthening local capacities to participate in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process.
- The programme needs to be designed taking into account the environment in which it will unfold. This would includes the remoteness and isolation of the areas, the poor physical infrastructure, the extreme poverty, the absence of effective governmental institutions, and absence/lack of social services, etc. However, the prevailing conditions are certainly far more conducive than at any time in the past decades for establishing the proposed community development and poverty alleviation programme in Afghanistan. (See Annex IV for details related to required features for targeted investment to address specific community needs.)
- The programme would need to have a core office in Kabul and two regional offices one in Nangerhar and the other in Tajik area. The Jalalabad office (Nangerhar) would need launch on pilot basis followed by the Tajik area in the Central Zone in the following years.
Afghanistan has already been divided into five different zones as follows:
Based on this division, starting with the proposed RSP in the Eastern Zone seems to be the most pragmatic and feasible approach. In the future an RSP can be established in each zone. In the pilot phase, the core office established at Kabul would cover the following area:
However, part of the Eastern Zone (highlighted in green in the first map above) can be selected to begin with the pilot RSP. The Eastern Zone consists of the following provinces: Paktia, Lowgar, Kabul, Laghman, Nangarhar and Konarha.
Nangarhar and Konarh provinces have the advantage of being adjacent to Pakistan and can have easy access to support from the rural support program in Peshawar. Laghman is adjacent to Nangarhar where Kabul based Core Office support would be available. Laghamn would thus have the advantage of close collaboration and coordnation with different government departments in Kabul.
The core office at Kabul will be responsible for providing back up services to the field offices and would work in close collaboration with the government.
AHRDO is a new NGO, but is well connected with the government. Its staff is very enthusiastic and interested in commencing Afghan Rural Support Programme. It, however, needs capacity building to become an implementing agency by re-organising it on the style of RSPs, or the RSP shall be implemented by the funding agency directly in association with AHRDO. After the initial three years the responsibility of programme will be gradually transferred to AHRDO.
The government representatives were positive about credit programme and women development within the framework of the Islamic teachings and principles. The chancellor of Kabul University suggested the charges on investment like KHUMAS (one fifth of the product), Muzrabath and Musharakha like ventures for development interventions. Apart from this RSP’s can also follow the example of NPO/RRAA practice of disbursing credit, whereas they charge an application fee for the request of credit that covers the service cost etc.
The proposed Rural Support Programme for Afghanistan must keep in mind the female employees are not allowed to sit in the office. However, the government attitude towards NGOs is friendly. The government has also allowed NGOs to work on women health in rural areas by keeping husband and wife as employees, who jointly visit the community.
Due to massive destruction of infrastructure, working at the micro-level with communities through RSPs would not be enough for sustainable development. Funding agencies would be required to work closely with their respective government and other UN agencies to coordinate support for human and system capacity building, and revitalization of infrastructure to strengthen communication, health and education.