KUNDUZ -- A horticulture programme established by the Afghan government has created 3,200 jobs for women in Balkh Province over the last eight months, according to officials.
The National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP) was implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in Mazar-e-Sharif and 12 districts of Balkh Province.
Under the project, women received training in the planting, farming, harvesting and processing of a variety of vegetables.
The goal is to build women's capacity, empower them economically, expand their access to social activities and increase vegetable production in winter and summer, said Akbar Rustami, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
"We have distributed 16 varieties of vegetable seeds to women in Balkh Province," Rustami said. "In addition to distributing vegetable seeds, we have provided women with farming tools for growing vegetables and built vegetable-processing centres for them."
This programme has provided jobs for poor women, most of whom are illiterate, and lowers reliance on imported vegetables, he added.
The government plans to help woman farmers market their products, said Rustami.
"The Ministry of Agriculture has rolled out regular programmes for marketing women's produce in order to help them sell their products on time in the market," he said. "We encourage entrepreneurs and businesspeople to buy women's products and support their sales."
The NHLP also has built greenhouses for women and is covering 70% of the costs, with the remaining 30% being paid by the farmers, said Muhammad Salem Saayee, director of the Balkh Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
"These greenhouses have different sizes that range from 40 to 300 square metres on which cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables are grown," he said.
Each woman is entitled to one greenhouse costing 50,000-75,000 AFN ($650-$975), said Saayee, who did not provide details on how many greenhouses have been established so far.
Farida Muhsini, 38, a resident of Nawabad village in Dehdadi District, Balkh Province, has been able to satisfy her living needs from growing vegetables.
"I have been busy growing and selling vegetables for six months, and I have earned a monthly income of 12,000 AFN ($156) from selling two harvests of my produce, which I have spent buying food and clothes for my children," she said November 4.
"We are thankful to the government because it has created jobs for us, and now we're hopeful for my own and my children's lives," she said.
"After we received training in vegetable production and harvesting this year in May, it [the government] gave us farming tools and we have planted a variety of vegetables on a 200-square-metre plot," said Nasima Mehrayeen, a resident of Nahr-e-Shahi District in Balkh Province.
"People need more vegetables in summer and winter, and we are able to earn a good and legitimate income in both of these seasons," she said. <<<halal, meaning legal income, rather than growing opium>>>>
"I have three children. They are young, and I have to work to earn a legitimate income to provide for them," she said.