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 www.travelblog.org/bloggers/quartermainesworld
IRD is at www.ird.org