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Saturday, September 25, 2010


Muzzafarghar, South Punjab - the photo may not look much, but closer examination will show the extent of the damage done by recent floods in Pakistan, particularly in this area which is at the confluence of the Indus and Chenab Rivers. In the foreground is a field of what was cotton, completely destroyed with a huge impact on Pakistan's textile sector that depends on local supplies. Further back, one can see a mango orchard that has been waterlogged, severely damaging the roots; next year's harvest is expected to be low and many trees themselves have died. All the other crops in this areas, including rice and maize have been lost. Many livestock have died or are starving because fodder crops have vanished and there is a shortage of milk.

GQB is in the flood affected area helping a client plan an agricultural recovery and reconstruction project. There is a critical need to immediately intervene with land reclamation, reconstruction of water ways (ironically lack of irrigation because the flood destroyed tertiary canals is likely to be a problem) and the provision of seeds for planting the Rabi (winter) wheat crop. The project, budgeted at $50 million for USAID, will provide a cash-for-work component that will immediately inject liquidity into the local economy and start repairing the damage. A voucher-based distribution of seeds, fertilizers and hand tools will give the farmers the basics of what they need to get going again. The project will cover 12 of the worst-affected districts in lower Punjab and in Sindh which remains inundated. Unless action is taken very soon, what was a natural disaster will turn into a very human one, with food shortages added to the misery of an estimated 20 million people in these areas.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


GQB has been working with USAID and the British Royal Air Force Regiment (a special force protection unit) around Kandahar Airfield (KAF) in the south of Afghanistan. The aim of the project is to develop a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables from the area surrounding this major ISAF-NATO base and at the same time influence the farmers away from the Taliban by providing inputs, cleaning irrigation ditches and generally helping with the development of the area.

The photo is taken at the Tarnak Agricultural Research station that before 2002 was a location for Al Qaeda - allegedly Usama Bin Laden had a house here. Now its an intensively and commercially farmed area with watermelons (shown growing here) and grapes. The area also grows a range of other fruits and veggies and is ripe for further development, both for the 30,000 people on KAF, the local market and export.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Pomegranates are the main tree crop in the Arghandab Valley just west of Kandahar City in the South of Afghanistan. KC is the focus of a coming surge to try and strangle the Taliban and the AVIPA+ project (managed by International Relief & Development with whom Geoff Q-B and Eddie Vernon are working at present) has made a real effort to help farmers by planting new saplings in an effort to rehabilitate plantations and increase earnings. The project has operated in three phases, first with a cash-for-work scheme to prune the existing trees, then by replanting with pomegranates, plums and apricots, and then undertaking an IPM program. What's expected is a huge surge in yields and output, so AVIPA+ hopes to help with the construction of packing houses and upgrading the marketing chain. The hoped for result is a calming of the insurgency because happy farmers are less likely to support the radical opposition.

Photo: Andy Burridge

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Geoff Q-Bastin and Eddie Vernon are working on contract with the AVIPA+ project in south Afghanistan, based in Kandahar. The project is managed for USAID by the leading American 'not for profit' company International Relief and Development (IRD). IRD has a major presence in Afghanistan and is the most successful USAID NGO contractor operating in-country maintaining a presence in the volatile south of the country despite continuous threats and attacks on its personnel. The company tragically lost three of its expatriate staff in the recent air crash at the Salang Pass.

Operating in the fertile Sistan River Basin (comprising the Helmand and Arghandab Valleys), the AVIPA+ project ($300+ million - the acronym stands for Afghan Vouchers for Increased Productivity in Agriculture) is a civil-military so-called COIN (counter-insurgency) innovative effort to stabilise communities by working with farmers to support their livelihoods. The project has various components including cash-for-work (CFW - such as pruning fruit trees or cleaning irrigation canals), small grants (e.g., for tractors) and voucher packages that provide a mix of vegetable seeds, tools and fertilizers as well as distribute fruit tree saplings.

The AVIPA+ project has been hugely successful with one military commander saying that it has substantially reduced casualties. In addition it has improved farmer's incomes through increased yields; fruit tree yields increased by as much as 30%. The project will transition into a more traditional development phase over a planned 5 year period as the security situation improves.

Photo: the fertile Arghandab Valley from the air looking north; notice the irrigation channel to the right of the photo on the outskirts of Kandahar City which is fed from the Arghandab (Dahla) Dam in the uplands of the Hindu Kush. This is a massive irrigation system that provides water for one of the potentially (and historically) most productive areas of agriculture in the world.

For more personal reflections on Afghanistan, check out Geoff's travel blog on

IRD is at

Saturday, May 01, 2010


Geoff Q-B has started a new travel blog.

It occurred to him that what with travelling to exotic place for FoodWorks, he met all kinds of folk, travelled in all kinds of conveyances, ate interesting food, and gleaned a lot of interesting photos and ideas (and opinions) that wouldn't fit easily into a corporate web site. But perhaps people might be interested in what amounts to the context of FoodWorks activities in various countries. And as an inveterate scribbler, Geoff enjoys writing... hence the blog.

It's implemented via a dedicated site, which makes specific tools available to travel writers. The site also provides a huge amount of world-wide information and hosts hundreds of travel-related blogs. Please check out

Monday, April 26, 2010


Geoff Q-B is in Kabul working as a senior advisor to the 'AVIPA Plus Program' being run by International Relief & Development (IRD) for USAID. "AVIPA Plus" stands for Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Productive Agriculture" and more information can be found on it on the IRD web site at

Briefly, however, the project has distributed vouchers for certified wheat seed and fertilizer (Urea and DAP) to subsistence farmers throughout the growing area. 47,000 hectares of land (irrigated and rain fed) have been covered with substantial yield increases. Jobs have been created and improvements made in the value chain.

The challenge now is to extend the project into other areas and other sub-sectors of agriculture.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


We are in Georgia looking at agricultural development (see Note below). In the post-Soviet era agriculture in Georgia declined severely with people falling back on their own resources to survive in a much harsher market-oriented environment. With the dissolution of the large collective state-run farms, more than 2.3 million land titles were distributed. Most families have plots about one hectare in size, enough for self-sufficiency, but well below an economic scale for commercial agriculture. The situation has also been complicated by political problems such as the August 2008 war with Russia.

The wine growing industry is a case in point: Georgia produced most of the wine drunk in the Soviet Union. The quality was not all it might have been, but there was a large and regular market. The dispute over the South Ossetian territory changed that. Georgia now struggles to find a market for its wine, and the vineyards have limited financial resources for upkeep and re-planting.

The fact is that Georgia has a wonderful natural endowment for agriculture; the climate is good, rainfall and water supply plentiful in most parts, the soil is black and fertile. Georgians are hard-working, conservative people. But the rural population is ageing (36% of smallholding owners are over 65 years old) and it is hard to keep young people working on an essentially stagnant sector; self-sufficiency is the overall model, with only 18% of agriculture in the cash economy.

The collapse of the Soviet Union (admittedly now 20 years ago) meant that existing large-scale infrastructure was left to rot and a range of 'public goods' such as roads and main irrigation channels were not maintained. In general, but especially in the mountain areas (that comprise most of Georgia), access to services and markets is very limited.

But the real absence is one of finance. Interest rates are very high (over 25%) and agricultural land is not accepted as collateral. The point about a transition from a centralized, communist economy to a free-market, capitalist economy is that there should in fact be available capital! What is capitalism without capital? The answer is as any Georgian small holder will tell you, a desperate struggle to survive with what you have to hand.

This is not to say that we suggest a major transformation of agriculture in Georgia. There may be parts (e.g., along the central corridor, in the lowlands of the coast and in the east) where a commodity approach can be taken. But for the majority living in the fertile, Caucasian uplands, smallholding is a sustainable model. However it desperately needs support and the question we are trying to answer is how should that support might be delivered.

Note: Geoff Quartermaine Bastin is contracted by International Relief & Development (IRD) for this assignment. IRD is a major not-for-profit company and charitable institution based in Washington DC and has operated in Georgia for the last 10 years supporting various aspects of humanitarian relief and economic development activities. Check out

Photo: vineyards in Central/East Georgia

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Yemen! In the news unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, political strife and terrorism - the themes for our age. Geoff QB is in Sana’a looking at the rural development situation and suggesting what can be done for a country where 90% of the people live in abject poverty in rural areas, where the most remunerative crop is a mild narcotic shrub (“qat” or “khat” - Catha edulis), only a fraction of the land is cultivable (most is desert and mountain) and where a population of 22million will double in 20 years. Yemen imports its essential food stuffs and exports oil and gas, but the supply of those commodities is running out. Worse still, water for agriculture and social use is limited. Aquifers get recharged from sudden rainstorms in short periods so run-off is massive. Water catchment, conservation and distribution is the priority sector in rural development – but qat uses 30% of water available for agriculture with no nutritive value whatsoever. The other issue is terracing (see photo). Yemen has a terrace system thousands of years old. But it is being abandoned except where it can grow qat; farmers don’t find it worthwhile to grow food in such a labor intensive way. Yemen is probably one of the most challenging countries we’ve ever worked in (and that includes Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan!). Not to mention the risk of being shot or kidnapped if you even try and get to see the farmers!

Photo shows qat terraces in the Haraz Mountains