IFAD kicks-off its first initiative in Afghanistan through a start-up workshop

From today, IFAD is holding a start-up workshop for its first initiative in Afghanistan – the Rural Microfinance and Livestock Programme. The event is taking place in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Twenty-two stakeholders of the programme gather together for the first time to discuss and improve their understanding of important elements of project management, implementation and IFAD’s support.

Participants include staff from the Programme Coordinating Unit (PCU), Programme’s Lead Implementation Agency – Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) – and other important partners from the Ministry of Finance (MoF), FAO, ICARDA, BRAC Afghanistan (Bangladesh), Microfinance Investment Support Facility Afghanistan (MISFA) and First Micro Finance Bank (FMFB).

The first day started with bad news about two Afghan participants being stuck in the immigration office at Dubai airport having problems with their visa. We are doing our best, including the Ambassador of Afghanistan, to get them out of the airport... :-(

Most participants are new to IFAD so it was important for them to learn how the institution works. Maria Donnat started the day by presenting IFAD’s mandate and strategic objectives.

Abdul Latif Zahed, National Programme Coordinator and Assad Zamir, General Director of the Programme Implementation and Coordination Unit, MAIL, made a presentation on the role of agriculture in the Afghan economy, in food security, livelihoods, sustainable resources and national security.

They also shared some major challenges to rural development. Assad Zamir talks about how rural people are coping in the context of conflict.

Afghanistan’s top agricultural priorities include:

  • Improved production as the first step in building a value chain.
  • Agricultural credit for farmers which is legal, simple and fair, and which benefits farmers and small/medium businesses through established financial institutions and cooperatives.
  • Irrigation and watershed management on small, medium and large scale to heal damaged land, fight erosion, floods and drought.
  • Reform, capacity-building and change management at all administrative levels.
  • Land management – the Government owns 6m hectares, but only gets US$ 1m in revenue.
  • Marketing and international trade facilitation that requires increased farm productivity and off-farm jobs.
  • Strategic grain reserves as a protection from man-made and natural disasters by securing a minimum price for crops at harvest and domestic consumer price support when needed.
  • Improved certification of seeds to ensure quality.
Tekeste Tekie, FAO Representative, Afghanistan, talks about how the situation has changed for farmers over the last few years.

An interesting feature to be implemented by the programme is the ‘Young Professional Programme’ which will identify new university graduates and offer them learning and employment opportunities. For example, young professionals will learn various technical subjects relevant to their work, help the PCU in preparing programme documents and provide support to the M&E officer in collecting, organizing and recording data.

The session on targeting stimulated a lot of extensive discussion. How do we define a poor household? There is a misperception that the less livestock families have, the poorer they are. However, in Afghanistan, the poorest rural households sometimes have 2-3 cows that enable them to survive. An extra cow represents a ‘saving’ for a family.

Women are IFAD’s important target group. Maria explained why we choose women as beneficiaries of the programme. “They are the most vulnerable segment of the population in Afghanistan,” she said. However, participants expressed their concerns about mistargeting as a major risk. “More effort should be made so that beneficiaries are identified properly”, said Abdul Latif Zahed, National Programme Coordinator.

In Bangladesh for example, BRAC uses the participatory rural appraisal by involving communities in targeting. “Community people know best who should benefit,” said Md. Fazlul Hoque, Country Head of BRAC-Afghanistan (Bangladesh). MFIs will have to define their own criteria for defining clients, keeping in mind IFAD’s target group and at the same time minimizing the risks of mistargeting.

Another issue is how to reach women in the first place. “We cannot talk to a woman without having permission from her husband, brother or father,” said Javed Rizvi, Country Manager of ICARDA-Afghanistan Programme. “We knock on woman’s door but it is the husband who opens it,” he pointed out. Men will therefore be involved in the discussions which will contribute to raising their awareness about gender issues. “Cooperation of men is very important,” added Javed. Therefore, targeting should be done without a rush and step-by-step in order to be effective.

Maria provided an overview of programme logframe, expected results, quantitative targets and implementing arrangements. Through feedback and extensive discussion, we started identifying areas that need to be fine-tuned in the logframe and implementing arrangements.

Shankar Kutty finished the day by talking about basic programme requirements for financial management and audit. Individual service providers (ICARDA, MISFA and FAO) asked many questions in relation to progress reports, audits, financial statements, budget allocations and limits of reallocations within categories, eligible expenditures and procurement from non-member countries. This was just an overview which will be covered in detail in working groups in the days to come.