Afghanistan is a landlocked Asian country at a strategic geographical location due to its links to neighboring countries of Central, Western, and Southern Asia. In spite of its vast untapped natural resources, the country is considered one of the least developed in the world. Frequent foreign invasions, civil wars, and armed conflicts spreading over centuries since 350 BC and, especially during the last three decades, have forced millions of Afghans to flee their homeland. Recently, however, a significant number of expatriate Afghans have been noticed returning home with hopes of rebuilding their country after the current war comes to an end. Durable peace, re-habilitation, re-construction and the return of life to normalcy in Afghanistan, but this still remains a dream for many people.
Afghanistan’s capital is Kabul. The country is divided into 34 provinces, which are further divided into a total of 398 provincial districts. The districts are sub-divided into cities and villages. Each province has a Provincial Council, an elected body, which is supposedly involved in development affairs for its provinces. The population of Afghanistan in 2011 was estimated as 35.3 million.
Afghanistan has mountains, hills, plains and deserts. As such, its climate is extreme with dry bitter cold winters, very hot summers, snow falls on the higher altitude, and dust storms occur in dry areas. Substantial variation exists in day and night temperatures. Most of the rain falls between October and April. However, the agriculture sector remains very important in building Afghanistan’s economy, in spite of the fact that only 12 percent of its land area is arable and only about half of that is cultivated. The Kunduz Province in the north and Helmand Province in the south constitute the primary agricultural areas. In 2006-07, the share of agriculture in the country’s GDP was 32.6 percent and agriculture generates 70 percent of employment and plays supporting role for the manufacturing and the service sectors.
Most of the farms are very small, as about 69 percent of these farms are below five hectares. Only about 16 percent of the farms have over 10 hectares of arable land, either irrigated or rain-fed and just 6.5 percent of these farms have over 20 hectares, cover about 33 percent of the irrigated and 50 percent of the rain-fed land. Main crops include wheat, maize, barley, sugarcane, and cotton. The important fruit and vegetable crops are pomegranates, apricot, almond, walnut, mulberry and grapes, as well as onion, potato, tomato, watermelon and melon. Water requirements are usually met by rains in spring and melting snow in winter. Animals include cattle, karakul sheep and poultry, which play an important role in enhancing the income of farmers. The development of agriculture suffers from, among some other factors, a lack of proper irrigation, weak extension services, and poor marketing. Putting effective ban on opium cultivation by farmers, who are tempted by the high income from this crop, remains a serious problem for the government.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population**
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of extensin and the enabling/disabling environment
Although the Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan was established in 1848, agricultural extension activities started only around 1920s. The Agricultural Development Bank of Afghanistan was established in 1954, and agricultural research and extension organizations were established during 1960s and 1970s with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Afghanistan had a well-established extension service during 1970s. The World Bank started the Training and Visit (T&V) approach during the mid-1970s as well as USAID providing financial and technical assistance to strengthen both agricultural research and extension. Also, under USAID scholarships, the government of Afghanistan sent dozens of nationals to the American University of Beirut and other institutions for higher education in agricultural extension. Also, the American Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) also ran training programs for extension agents in Afghanistan. At that time, the country had 24 research stations, with a combined staff of over 1,000. Similarly, there were about 216 extension units (one in each district), with an average of nine staff members for each unit, who also functioned as community mobilizers. The total number of extension staff in 1978 was comprised of about 2,520 persons. At that time, the country was almost self-sufficient in cereal production.
When the King was ousted in 1973, a communist regime came to power and the trend of agricultural development in Afghanistan shifted towards the establishment of state farms and farmers’ cooperatives. During the Soviet Union occupation (1979-1989) of Afghanistan, the main duties of a large number of extension workers were to promote cereal production, cooperatives, mechanization stations and irrigation infrastructure in accordance with the state farm model. As the resistance movement against the occupation picked up momentum, so did the violence, steadily destroying the fabrics of normal life. Farmers’ fields became mine fields killing people and cattle, scorching the once richly cropped lands. Farmers desperately resorted to poppy cultivation to survive. The expulsion of the Soviet forces was followed by several years of factional fighting with the country, eventually putting the Taliban into power in 1996. At that time, about 1,300 extension agents were still on the government payroll. But extension did not seem to be the government’s priority as the total number of extension workers was reduced to about 650.
The country had barely started recovering from effects of long wars when the 9/11 incident occurred in 2001, followed by a US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban were quickly ousted from power, the war did not stop due to insurgencies. Several years of almost non-stop bloodshed forced large numbers of Afghans, including farmers, to flee to other countries.
In spite of the ongoing war, most government institutions, including extension, started functioning, receiving huge financial aid from USAID and other donors. In 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) came up with a Master Plan for the development of the agriculture sector, under which central and regional “research and extension boards,” were to be created. The objective of the extension services, as mentioned in the document, was “…to transfer agricultural technologies and practices to farm community for adoption purposes”. The methods for technology transfer were specified as individual contacts through office and home visits and letters; group contacts through field demonstrations, field days, village meetings and field visits; and mass contacts through publications, exhibitions, radio and television. In 2008, the MAIL, with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), developed the National Medium Term Priority Framework (NMTPF) 2009-2013.
MAIL is now implementing the National Agricultural Development Framework (NADF) prepared in 2009. Four key areas are natural resource development, agriculture production and productivity, economic re-generation, and program support and change management. Another institution called Comprehensive Agriculture and Rural Development Facility (CARD-F) is being developed which will serve as linkage between MAIL and the Ministry of Rural Re-habilitation and Development (MRRD) programs. Although extension is not explicitly mentioned in the implementation program, it is assumed that it will cut across all development initiatives for the welfare of farmers.
Presently, MAIL has primary responsibility for providing extension services to farmers. A few other public institutions also undertake some extension activities. The government has asked multilateral and bilateral donors and NGOs to assist in the delivery of extension services. A number of international NGOs and several US consulting companies are now receiving funds from USAID and are engaged in extension activities or other related extension work. However, a public extension service, which has neither adequate human nor physical resources, still operates irrespective of its impact. While extension agents are barely present in most districts, only Kabul District has the highest concentration, i.e. about 76 extension workers.
Recently, USAID has approved a $14 million Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project (AAEP), which has been designed to assist the MAIL to deliver more effective, demand-driven extension services to producers and other rural clientele. Anticipated results of the project include a cadre of extension staff with the technical expertise and appropriate methodologies to effectively extend information and knowledge; increased public accessibility to, and use of, government extension services; development of extension training modules and educational materials based on high-priority needs; targeted agricultural universities, vocational high schools, and technical institutes with increased capacity to prepare future extension personnel; improved services for women working in the agricultural sector; and a pluralistic approach to extension that responds to farmers needs for research-based technologies, builds upon the innovations of Afghanistan farmers, and promotes coordination among the various entities providing extension-related services.
MAIL’s another USAID funded five-year Agricultural Research and Extension Development (AGRED) program will provide $65 million to strengthen agricultural research and extension services, build the management and technical capacity of the extension and research directorates in 50 districts, and rehabilitate research centers, as well as extension stations in seven agricultural zones as stated by the Minister.
In addition to USAID, Afghanistan is being assisted in developing various aspects of its agriculture sector by the World Bank, regional development banks, European Union, UNDP, FAO, almost all major bilateral European and Middle-East donors, as well as China, Japan (JICA) and other countries. There are at least 14 externally funded major projects in rural and agricultural development. In addition, FAO is implementing at least 22 projects funded by various donors.
Major institutions providing extension and advisrory services
- Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL)
- Agriculture Extension General Directorate (AEGD)
The AEGD is one of the four general directorates under the Deputy Ministry of Agriculture Affairs, the other three general directorates covering research, livestock and animal health, and natural resources management. The AEGD has three directorates, namely crops extension, family economy, and horticulture. The Ministry’s website does not show specific functions of the AEGD, but, logically, extension seems to be involved in almost all major activities of the Ministry. Presently, the AEGD is comprised of about 600 staff who are aging, have not received meaningful in-service training for years, and have not been paid satisfactorily in spite of the fact that they work in the field under conditions are dangerous. It is hoped that the new USAID project on strengthening agricultural extension will reform the extension services in line with the latest trends.
- Agriculture Extension General Directorate (AEGD)
- Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)
The mission of MRRD is to ensure the social, economic and political well-being of rural society, especially poor and vulnerable people, through the provision of basic services, strengthening of local governance and promotion of sustainable livelihoods free from a dependency on illicit poppy cultivation. The Ministry follows sustainable rural livelihood strategies to empower rural communities through good local governance, increased productive infrastructure, enhanced livelihoods, informed decision making, and mitigation of shocks.
- The Afghanistan Institute of Rural Development (AIRD)
AIRD is an institution under MRRD. The primary mission of the AIRD is to support the implementation of comprehensive rural development toward socio-economic development and poverty reduction in Afghanistan through training and education services, provision of research and policy inputs, and dissemination of results and findings to stakeholders. AIRD works under the Local Governance Pillar of MRRD. Its current organizational structure comprises six units covering training and education, research and policy, impact evaluation, information dissemination & external relations, rural technology park, and administration & finance. AIRD has 83 staff members including 50 contract staffs and 43 permanent civil servants.
- Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA), Kabul
(No information on ARIA’s specific activities are presently available).
Presently, no private companies have developed a “well established” private extension service within Afghanistan. A few private companies, however, cover agriculture among other businesses by selling various agricultural inputs. In 2011, the National Group of Improved Seeds in Afghanistan complained that although the government had promised to buy improved seed from 39 private national agricultural companies, it was ignored by the government after the companies had already produced 32,000 metric tons of seed, and it was done in spite of great demand for seed by the farmers. Examples of these national, private companies are:
- Afghanistan Chemical and Fertilizer Company
- Afghan Seed Company
- Bahar Agricultural and Seed Company, Ltd.
- Helal Agricultural Seeds Co., Ltd.
- Noor Agricultural Seed Company
Just as in certain developing countries where long wars severely damaged public institutions and attracted NGOs to perform their functions, the same phenomenon has been occurring in Afghanistan for decades. One recent estimate of the number of international and indigenous NGOs working in Afghanistan is over 800, giving an impression of an ongoing competition among them. Most NGOs are international, funded by bilateral donors. In the past when the civil war had started in Afghanistan, a significant number of NGOs became active both in rehabilitation of rural people and the provision of agricultural inputs. Since the present war started in 2001, most NGOs have been working in collaboration with the US and European countries that are participating in the war. In order to ensure good quality work by the NGOs, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) also attached agricultural advisors to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
Six examples of NGOs which are active in agricultural extension in Afghanistan are as follows:
- The Agha Khan Foundation which seeks to strengthen local and commercial agricultural operations as well as district level producer associations. In addition, it puts a focus on Integrated Pest Management, Integrated Crop Management, Farmer Field Schools, value-chain and forming a partner with MAIL.
- Afghan Aid has its own extension unit; uses Farmer Field Schools approach to provide training to farmers; develops value chain; performs extension activities in collaboration with agricultural technology transfer centers located in each agro-ecological zone in support of district level Agro-Ecological Committees.
- ACDI-VOCA has organized basic veterinary training sessions for farmers covering 200 villages and arranged vaccinations for 136,000 animals.
- BRAC introduced the Agriculture and Livestock Development and Credit Support Programme in Afghanistan in 2003.
- Dutch Committee for Afghanistan has established Veterinary Field Units in 27 provinces in addition to a special cooperative of para-veterinarians, and
- OXFAM which is running a food gardens program
Many US consulting companies, mostly funded by USAID and are working in collaboration with USDA, have been performing rural and agricultural development activities including extension work. A few examples are:
- CNFA (Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs) which has established demonstration plots for farmers and provided training in the management of underground vegetable storage units, Also, it has facilitated the creation of the Farm Service Center Association of Afghanistan (FSCAA), which sets standards for stores and allows them a vehicle to jointly pursue opportunities.
- Chemonics has organized national agricultural fairs for farmers to show them improved agricultural production practices such as laser land leveling, and
- DAI (Development Alternatives, Inc.) which is involved in rebuilding the agriculture sector by improving access to markets, farm inputs and business services in rural areas
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
Even though cooperatives are not looked at favorably for various reasons, the current Master Plan (2008-2013) of the Afghan government has a target of establishing 5,000 new cooperatives. Presently, no cooperatives are actively involved in business with the exception of a few which are supported by agencies like FAO. Donor agencies, consulting firms and NGOs are helping Afghan farmers organize into farmer associations. It will, however, take time for them to mature due to lack of peace in the country. Two examples of such farmer associations are:
- Regional Poultry Farmers Associations which was formed with FAO’s assistance, including 300 Village Groups covering 16,000 families, and the Poultry Producer Groups of village women established through intensive training and organization, and
- Afghan Soybean Farmers Association, which was the first association of its kind, formed in Kapisa Province in 2011.
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Afghanistan. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training options for extensin professionals
There are many established universities in Afghanistan with Faculties of Agriculture, which offer degree programs in various agricultural disciplines. Pre-service education for extension professionals takes place at these academic institutions. Major universities with faculties of agriculture are:
- Herat University, Herat
- Kabul University, Kabul
- Kandahar University, Kandahar
- Paktia University, Paktia
The four universities listed above provide in-service training for the extension staff, as well as these institutions, including:
- The Afghanistan Institute of Rural Development
- Agricultural Training Center, Kandahar. This ATC was re-habilitated and renovated by USAID, with a residential facility that will house local agricultural extension agents and has available lecture and conference rooms, as well as kitchen space, all powered by solar energy. Available greenhouses with drip irrigation, provides farmers with hands-on training in best agricultural practices.
- Nangarhar Afghan Agriculture Training Center, Nangarhar, as well as
- The above donor-funded NGOs and Private Sector firms linked to extension
Info-mediaries and information and communication technology (ICT) for agricultural advisory services
According to the World Bank, in 2010, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Afghanistan was 41.38. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 3.65.
Although MAIL does have a Communication and Public Relations Directorate under the Minister, it is the Ministry of Communication and IT (MCIT) http://mcit.gov.af whose mandate is to provide quality communication, IT and postal services to the population of Afghanistan at affordable prices. Hence, the MCIT has been actively advocating for a positive change in the society by connecting the Afghan people to knowledge, experience and resources, which assist them to improve the quality of their lives. The vision of the MCIT is to transform Afghanistan into an Information Society.
Among several priorities of the MCIT for the next three years, most relevant to rural and agricultural development is to: deliver the Telecom and IT services to rural villages through country; to supply high speed internet service for the people; to extend the Fiber Optic network to the areas which are not covered; and to build and place the first Telecommunication Satellite in the orbit. A National Information Technology Council is being created and a Techno-Park is being established. UNDP is funding an important IT project in Afghanistan which aims at, among other things, establishing ICT centers throughout the country, and drafting a national ICT policy. The World Bank has installed a large system which provides inter-connectivity to a number of ministries and an inter-ministerial intranet which will facilitate sharing of documents. The private sector has been establishing computer training centers in several main cities.
Examples of the service providers which provide software development, networking, website development, consultancy and other services, are as follows:
- Afghan Computer Science Association (ACSA) : (started in 1999 by a group of Afghan computer students who were studying at that time at the International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan)
- Asia Soft: (the first Afghan IT company established in 1992 with main focus on developing fonts in Pashto, Dari and Urdu languages)
- Center for Research and Technical Support (CeReTechs) which was created in 1994 to provide a wide range of services in IT in Afghanistan and Pakistan
- The Afghan Computer Center (ACC) was founded in 1970 and actively works with several key government institutions and the private sector.
- Afghan ICT Solution
- Haqmal ICT Solutions
- Afghan Paiwand ICT
Resources and References
Adlparvar, N., S. Soltani, M. Mossavi and M. Godarzi (October 2009). Agricultural Extension in Afghanistan: Review and Recommendations. Report prepared under the “Support to Strategic Planning for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (SSPSRL) Project”, funded by DFID (Department for International Development), United Kingdom
Adovor, D., J. Estrada-Valle and R. Yin (2009). Knowledge gaps and training needs of Afghanistan’s agricultural extension agents. Proceedings of the 25th Annual Meeting of AIAEE, held at Puerto Rico
Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (2011). Afghanistan Research Newsletter. No. 28, January/February 2011
Emerging Asia (18 January 2009). Afghanistan’s Fertilizer Market: Reliant on Imports from Neighboring Countries.
Fazl, F. (no date; probably 2010). Agricultural extension strategy. Kabul: Extension Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock
Government of Afghanistan and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (16 December 2008). National Medium Term Priority Framework (NMTPF) 2009-2013. Kabul: Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock
ICARDA and FAO (2002). Report of the Code-of-Conduct Workshop jointly organized with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in Afghanistan, at Kabul; 21-23 May, 2002; in Rebuilding Agriculture in Afghanistan.
Kock, T.K., A. Harder and P. Saisi. (2010). The provision of extension services in Afghanistan: What is happening? Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, Vol. 17, Number 1, Pp. 5-12
Maletta, H. and R. Favre (August 2003). Agriculture and Food Production in Post-War Afghanistan; A Report on the Winter Agricultural Survey 2002-2003. Kabul: Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Miller, D. (February 14, 2006). Building a New Agricultural Research and Extension System in Afghanistan: Initial Thoughts. Washington: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (6 May 2011). Cooperatives and Farmer Organizations in Afghanistan (Abstract). Kabul (in collaboration with BGP Engineers and Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken)
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and USAID (May 1, 2006). The Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Food Master Plan. (Prepared by Chemonics International Inc.)
Nessar, M.H. and O. Thieme (no date; probably 2004). Family poultry production in Afghanistan. Kabul: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Olson, L. (2006). Fighting for humanitarian space: NGOs in Afghanistan. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies; Fall 2006, Vol. 9, Issue 1, Pp. 1-28.
Paul V. Galvin Library (this page maintained by Luke Griffin and last updated on 10/25/2006). Afghanistan Country Study. Illinois Institute of Technology. Chapter on agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture (2012). Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project (AAEP), being implemented by UC-Davis.
Wesa, T. (2002). The Afghan agricultural extension system: Impact of the Soviet occupation and prospects for the future. Ph.D. dissertation. Vancouver: University of British Columbia. Abstract available at: https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/13579
Witherell, J.W. (1986). Afghanistan: An American Perspective; a Guide to U.S. Official Documents and Government-Sponsored Publications. Washington: Library of Congress
Vegetable Dehydration and Processing Factory in Afghanistan Case StudyPresentation Click here to view video presentation by Kenneth Neils, Rebuilding Agricultural Markets Program (RAMP), Chemonics International, Afghanistan
Daniel Miller (2006): Building a New Agricultural Research And Extension System in Afghanistan: Initial Thoughts. USAID/Afghanistan, February 14, 2006.
- ICT-Assessment-in-Afgahn-Agricultural-Extension-Mayelle_Santibanez_Jallo_2015.pdf 511.18 KB2015-07-27
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- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (August 2012)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson