Case Holder:
Haji Mohammad Balkh Ahmadzai

Contact details

Email: hajimohammad.cotton@gmail.com

Extension services on good agricultural practices for cotton

Promotion of Youth Employment in Fragile Settings

Background & Context

Before the outbreak of the war, cotton production, processing and sales and marketing was one of the major economic and industrial activities for the people of Afghanistan. The aftermath of the war however has seen a vertical and horizontal decline in cotton as a priority commercial crop. Farmers converted thousands of acres from cotton production to the production of opium and many farmers migrated to safer regions away from farms and outside the country.

There have been recent concerted efforts from both the government and development partners to help improve the functioning of the cotton sector, with the aim of promoting decent employment opportunities, increasing productivity and supporting private sector growth and investments in support services and markets to serve the cotton sector.

Cotton oil processing companies with oil refineries are being set up as a result of increasing local demand for cotton products. These products are lint, cotton oil, cotton cake (made from the seeds, for animal feed) and soap (made from waste after refining the oil) and only cotton lint has an international market, mostly exporting to Pakistan, where it is converted into textile products. Cotton oil, cake and soap are sold domestically, particularly in Balkh province, which is currently the largest producer of cotton in Afghanistan. There is also a significant engagement of poor people in the cotton sub-sector in Balkh and Samangan provinces, with a good number of poor women, men and immigrants earning their livelihoods from cotton value chain participation as producers, workers, processors and traders.

Afghanistan is endowed with very rich quality of cotton, silk and cashmere, and hence it has huge potential for development of the textile industry, which is a good source for jobs and employment. The revival of the textile industry is important for economic development of Afghanistan and cotton can be one of the alternate crops to move away from opium cultivation.

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The Problem

R2J identified the cotton sub-sector as a core value chain with potential for growth and employment. There are several challenges however which need to be overcome. Input supply systems for cotton function poorly and productivity and market linkages do not function properly. Processing often doesn’t function well and the cotton oil is of low quality. Also present is a lack of skilled labour in cotton processing ( e.g. textiles and oil) and a lack of rules and regulations in cotton value chains.

In 2015, during the inception phase, the Road to Jobs project of ILO conducted Participatory Appraisal of Competitive Advantage (PACA) in Balkh and Samangan provinces. According to PACA, the local economy was assessed to identify the opportunities for improvement to help enhance the local economy and increase the income of the poor. Later on in Jan 2017, R2J conducted a comprehensive Market System Analysis (MSA) for cotton sector, and as a result of MSA, the R2J project designed a number of interventions in different agricultural sectors and value chains which can help increase the profit of the poor.

Objective

The objective of this intervention was to specifically address the problem of poor productivity and market linkages. The Haji Mohammad Balkh Gin and Press Company (HMBGP) would train 1000 farmers in Good Agricultural Practices ( GAP) as well as providing some of them with interest free loans for seed and fertilizer.

Value Proposition & Activities

The HMBGPC conducted GAP training for 1000 cotton farmers in 19 villages of the Balkh district:

 

No. Village Name # of Trainees No. Village Name #of trainees
1 Abdul Rahimzai 15 11 Warghari 185
2 Alam Khail 61 12 Kata Khail 45
3 Arghon 15 13 Nawabad 60
4 Bahawudin 15 14 Nawarid Boka 105
5 Boka 105 15 Omakay 16
6 Asyab Qonaq 30 16 Palas Posh 15
7 Dinar Khail 25 17 Qarloq 45
8 Ghondan 69 18 Sarkot 30
9 Hasan Khail 44 19 Kolyambo 30
10 Khojagholak 90  

The owner of the factory , Haji Mohammad Balkh Ahmadzai:

“I have learned that keeping hard work in business makes the future better, for myself  and other poor farmers , we will keep it up in the future “

The training covered preparation of land, seed types and selecting quality seeds, cultivation of cotton, various types of cultivation, irrigation, fertilizers, cotton diseases and applying chemicals, harvesting, storing and marketing cotton. The training was delivered to farmers in two half day sessions and at the end of training farmers were provided with leaflets and brochures.

Besides the training, the intervention included contract farming; as a result of this intervention the company has increased contract farming by 267%. The  HMBJPC had around 30 contract cotton farmers in 2016 and after completing the GAP training and providing awareness to farmers about contract farming it successfully contracted with 80 farmers during 2017.  All of these farmers are trained by HMBGPC. Under this contract, HMBGPC provided seed, fertilizer and cash and buys the cotton at the same price as that of the open market. Farmers return the cash loaned once their cotton has been sold. Contracts are made with farmers after their request, based on total agricultural land, land under cotton cultivation, past performance or ability to be able to pay back and reputation in the community. The contracted farmers can sell their products to HMBGPC or on the open market; there is no restriction on farmers.

Besides the above mentioned contracting system, HMBJPC initiated a special contract during 2017 specifically for the farmers who received GAP. Under this scheme about 300 farmers received 2 bags of fertilizers (one bag DAP and one bag UREA) on credit. Around 85% of farmers have already returned the money.  These 300 farmers didn’t want seed or had already cultivated cotton, or they could pay for the seed themselves but wanted the fertilizer on credit.

Learning & Results

In order to assess the effectiveness of the GAP intervention, two different groups of farmers were interviewed, one as a control (not having received GAP) and one as a treatment group (having received GAP). Four Focus Group Discussions (FGD) were conducted, two for the control group and two for the treatment group. Both the control group and treatment group are in the same geographical area. All the production factors are the same for both groups such as soil, climate, and access to water and access to inputs are the same. Both groups used the same inputs (fertilizer, seed, number irrigation water, etc.).

The assessment was conducted in the 12 villages of Balkh district and 100 individual interviews were conducted with cotton farmers (50 for the control group and 50 for the treatment group) using a pre- developed structured questionnaire. The cotton farmers for the control group were selected randomly in various villages and interviewed, and the treatment group farmers were selected from the list of participants of GAP training. HMBGPC and 3 other small scale cotton processing companies were interviewed and their opinions and their learning assessed.

“…This training helped me look at how I am farming cotton. It is too short though – I had to travel to this training. It would be better if the experts can visit us on the farm and give us practical training ….” Dadvar Habib,37, Boka Village.

All the farmers expressed satisfaction with the training but raised the issue in the focus groups that the training was delivered to them last year only after the cotton was cultivated, so only post-harvest topics could be applied. This year they are able to apply both pre- and post-harvest topics.

The other suggestion/recommendation concerned the duration of the training.  A two day session is not sufficient; the cotton extension services should last at least a week and the extension services provider should be conducting mentoring visits throughout the season and for at least one season,  so farmers learn everything thoroughly.

Furthermore, the HMBJPC could have conducted mentoring visits after the training which has not happened. Mentoring visits can improve the practical knowledge of farmers and helps them to learn, apply and share the knowledge.

The intervention resulted in increased cotton cultivation; as result of the training the farmers have been encouraged to cultivate more cotton. Good rains during the year 2017 also encouraged farmers to cultivate more cotton. Not all farmers cultivated, the cotton was already cultivated in most of the places when they started the training but some farmers increased their cultivation, especially those who received the fertilizers.

Comparing the control group and treatment group in 2017, the treatment group has increased cotton cultivation by 20% and the control group has increased cotton cultivation by 12%. The below table further elaborates this statement.

Groups # of Farmers interviewed Jeribs of land under cotton 2016 Jeribs of land under cotton 2017 Increased Cultivation
Control 50 540 606 66 12%
Treatment 50 681 818.5 137 20%

Conclusion & any future variation

The intervention has benefited cotton farmers, the cotton processing companies and the cotton collectors. The HMBGPC has the capacity to buy more cotton and there is a chance of increasing cotton cultivation in this district. This intervention can further be improved by training more farmers on GAP for a longer period of time. The input on cotton GAP cannot be covered in two hours. It would be beneficial to support DAIL in recruiting a cotton extension services provider to work specifically in the cotton sector. Farmers are mostly uneducated and therefore practical or on the job training is more effective than theory classes. It is also very important to further support the farmers and conduct mentoring visits. Extension workers should be assigned who could visit farms and provide necessary advice/recommendation to cotton farmers, as they are currently buying chemicals without having anyone visit their farms to provide advice/recommendation regarding plant diseases. This could be achieved by supporting DAIL or encouraging the cotton processing company to assign someone and visit contracted farms, either based on farmers demand or conduct timely visits to provide guidance for farmers. Farmers also need adequate storage for their cotton away from rain and dust so they are not forced to immediately sell their product at the beginning of the season when quantity is abundant and prices lower.