OMEN ABAD VILLAGE, Behssod District, Nangarhar Province - Fragile saplings which represent the future for farmer Hashim Sherzad are tucked between rows of pea plants ripe for the picking.
For several hours each day, the 42-year-old farmer carefully waters, weeds and tends these tiny lemon trees in his small orchard near Momen Abad village.
It’s an investment of time, labor and love from Sherzad, who expects his income to eventually triple once the trees mature in three years’ time and fruit can be harvested. “In this country, we all love the lemon. It is an important fruit for us especially during Ramadan, when we need it in our drinks because we have been fasting,” he explains.
Still, Sherzad says he could not have managed this new enterprise alone. It was his community’s shura (council) that selected and encouraged him to take part in the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP), a Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock initiative supported by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). Aimed at rehabilitating existing fruit orchards and establishing new plots, the project helps farmers like Sherzad who own arable land with a good water source. Akbar Hussein Mirza, the project’s coordinator for Nangarhar province, stated that about 40 lemon orchards have recently been established with NHLP assistance.
Mirza says farmers pay 25 percent of the saplings’ cost, but are given free fertilizer, micronutrients, pesticides and ‘intercrops,’ like peas and zucchini, to grow between the trees while they mature.
It is only the limited amount of available saplings that has so far slowed the project’s progress, he says. The variety of lemon being used comes from certified South African root stock which is hardy and highly adaptable to Afghan growing conditions. While the project’s saplings cost 150 Afghani (approximately $2.65) each, and are more expensive than the readily available variety from Pakistan, the South African stock are proven producers of high quality fruit, says Mirza.
“We are hoping to get maybe 25,000 more saplings for next year,” says Mirza. “Because when people are happy like this, there will always be more demand.”
A better life for families
Farmers in this province have always appreciated orchards, says Mirza. They need less space and less work than vegetable crops, and they are perennial. Even better, there is more profit from fruit however the initial investment has been out of reach for many.
With NHLP’s help, Sherzad planted 133 new trees in mid-February of 2013 on his one jerib (0.2 hectare) of land. He isn’t worried about any temporary loss of income while the trees mature because the intercrops are already producing better than his previous vegetable crops, he says. “They are also of very good quality and they are getting good fertilizer, so my income has already doubled from this alone.”
Sherzad supports seven children and plans to use the extra money to send them to good schools, buy medicine and reinvest in his orchard. Sherzad says he moved his family to this region 10 years ago from another district where security was a problem. Now, just as his lemon trees mature, he also wants to put down firm family roots here.
“This is a very good project, and I’m very happy here now. This is a good life for us,” he remarks. Sherzad’s 10-year-old son, Khalid, who helps tend the orchard, says he hopes his father can afford to put him in a private school someday, using the additional income from his lemon trees. “This work is nice but I hope that I can learn more and make life even better for my family.”