1. Context: Over one third of the Afghan population lives below the national poverty line and 30% are food insecure. Poverty rates are higher in rural areas, where they reach 50%.  With an estimated three quarters of the population living in rural areas, sustainable agriculture is of crucial importance for Afghanistan’s socioeconomic development and the livelihoods of the people. Major challenges for sustainable agricultural assets:

  • Demographic youth bulge: The country’s population growth rate is very high. Combined with the prevailing inheritance system, the landholding per household is decreasing. This limits the agricultural production per household and results in increased seasonal migration and persistent food insecurity for many rural families.
  • Soil fertility: Because of the intensification of agricultural practices (due to the increasing population), a better understanding and insight in soil fertility issues and nutrient balances (quantification of inputs and outputs) is necessary. Soil fertility is a crucial aspect for sustainability of livelihoods.
  • Natural resources management in agricultural mountainous areas has to be at the core of any food security intervention: water shortages, deforestation and overgrazing impact negatively on agricultural production, as do recurrent droughts and natural disasters including flash floods and landslides.
  • Small scale subsistence farming is not among the priorities for national programmes and receives little attention.
  • Services are limited or absent: financial institutions, agricultural extension workers, etc.
  • The agricultural household has to be addressed as a production unit, where both – men and women – play crucial productive roles. Both genders have to be equally addressed, involved and capacitated.
The National Unity Government of Afghanistan, which took office on 29 Sep 2014, recognizes agriculture as a priority sector for the national economy. Laws with regards to natural resource management are in place, but implementation capacities remain low. Due to the highly centralized nature of the Afghan state, budget allocations to subnational government institutions are decided in Kabul and often do not take into account local development priorities. Moreover, line agencies on provincial and district level are severely understaffed, lack capacities and often do not dispose of the necessary inputs to fulfil their mandates.
The National Unity Government took office end of September 2014 and has the vision and the will to reform the system. First steps are taken. It is vital to engage with the new administration, understand their plans and priorities and identify feasible interventions to support them in a “bottom up” state building approach.
1.1. SDC's Strategy and Focus:  Given the high levels of poverty, inclusive socioeconomic development, especially of marginalized rural households, is a focus of the Swiss Cooperation Strategy Afghanistan 2015-2018, implemented by the Swiss Cooperation Office Afghanistan (SDC-SCOA) based in Kabul. Natural resource management, including disaster-risk reduction modalities, and diversified production with the long-term goal to promote agricultural value chains are the principal lines of intervention. As a result of Swiss contributions, the following strategic outcomes are planned:
  • Men and women, girls and boys, especially from poor families living in rural areas, improve their livelihoods.
  • Government Institutions, especially at the sub national level, provide more and better demand-driven basic services in the targeted areas.
Currently, SDC has mandated livelihood projects in three regions of Afghanistan: ILRC in the Central Highlands, the Regional Livelihoods Project in Kunar and Nangarhar, Sustainable Livelihood and Social Development (SLSD) in Khost and Paktya in the south-east and the Livelihood Improvement Project in Takhar. Complementing these initiatives is the Sustainable Land and Water Management Project, a capacity-building and networking project on natural resource management.
1.2. The ILRC Project:  The Improving Livelihoods of Rural Communities project (ILRC) contributes to “improving the livelihoods and resilience of the communities in target districts through economic development and sustainable land and water management” with three major outcomes: sustainable land and water management, agricultural and economic development and capacity building. The intervention strategy consists of strengthening local good governance of and confidence building in governance institutions at community level, mainly CDCs.
The whole ILRC project has a life span of 11 years in 3 phases and a financial volume of approximately CHF 25 million. The present third phase of the ILRC project, implemented by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation (HSI), started in March 2012 and will end by February 2016. Then follows a bridging phase from March 2016 until December 2016 to prepare a new long-term intervention from January 2017 onwards.
Within the ILRC area of intervention, SDC-SCOA mandated HSI to carry out an additional Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) project until 2014.