Saturday, October 24, 2009

UK helps boost economic growth in Helmand

Like any self-respecting businessman Nah Sarang wants to expand.

With 30 people in his family, including parents and grandparents, the 25 year-old farmer in Gereshk, Helmand province, makes regular trips to sell his wheat and corn in the Mayors market in the centre of Lashkar Gah.

The province is one of the country's most fertile areas but has until now been dominated by illegal opium production to keep the economy afloat.

In the fight against the drugs trade in Afghanistan, the UK is helping to provide farmers with the means to grow other crops, providing the region with much-needed food and the farmers with a legitimate and sustainable income.

Twice the harvest

Now, thanks to DFID-funded loans, Nah will soon double his harvest in size and the family will also boast a new bakery run by two of Nah's brothers.

He has received 100,000 Afghanis (£1,250) to buy seed, fertiliser and materials to expand his business.

Nah says, "The loan I have received allows me to farm twice as much land as before, so I grow more food to sell in the Mayors market.

This years harvest has been good but I am expecting next years to be even better.

With the loans that my brothers and I have received we are in a better position than ever to provide for our family."

To date, DFID has helped provide loans to over 1441 microfinance clients, including farmers, in Helmand, totalling $832,800.

Money is provided via the Afghan government to the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and is distributed via Islamic Investment and Finance Cooperatives (IIFCs) to members, incuding farmers.

The loans are part of a package that will boost counter narcotics work by giving farmers incentives to plant legal food crops rather than illegal poppy.

DFID's partnership with WOCCU is one part of a broader package of support from the UK to boost agricultural and rural development in Helmand.

Other activities include:

- Support for the production and marketing of local produce such as fruits, nuts and vegetables.

- Increasing access to safe drinking water and irrigation.

- Building roads so that farmers and entrepreneurs can get their goods to market.

Shoots of recovery

There are signs that the economy of Helmand is growing. This year saw the opening of the third branch of the first national retail bank and development of the UK-funded Shamalan Canal has improved irrigation for 10,000 farmers.

DFID's activities in Helmand are closely coordinated with USAID's. Earlier this year USAID turned a gravel airstrip at Bost Airfield into a tarmac runway creating the only completely civilian airstrip in Southern Afghanistan and opening up the province for trade.

DFID will continue to build on USAID work and will pay for access roads, security fencing and a new administration block for a business centre alongside the airfield.

The centre will host the processing of farmers' produce from Helmand valley for delivery to markets across the country.

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