KUNDUZ -- Women in Jawzjan province have been growing and selling mushrooms in recent years to support their families, after receiving training from partner organisations of the provincial agriculture department.
Despite the recent hardships in the country, women entrepreneurs told Salaam Times they are determined to spare no effort to improve their households’ economic well-being, and hope they can continue to work outside the home.
Nasima, 48, of the provincial capital of Sheberghan, heads a 10-member team of mushroom growers, all of whom are women.
"We have jointly been growing and selling mushrooms in Sheberghan city's Mesir Abad village for the last year," she told Salaam Times.
"Mushrooms generally yield eight times a year," she said. "I sell each kilogramme of mushrooms for 300 AFN ($3.40) in the Sheberghan market and earn an average of 10,000 AFN ($114) in a month."
This is enough to provide for her five children, Nasima said.
Guldista, 40, another farmer in Sheberghan who has completed a training course on mushroom cultivation, said two types of mushrooms are grown in Jawzjan.
One type thrives in arid areas, she said, while the other is cultivated in backyard farms.
"We first receive mushroom seeds and then grow them in specific farms," she said.
Mushrooms are a good source of protein, she said, noting that people like to use them in dishes such as bolani and curry.
"I am making between 800 and 1,000 AFN ($9 to $11) a week from selling mushrooms," Guldista said. "Most local Jawzjani women could not earn this much income in the past."
Officials at Jawzjan agriculture and livestock directorate said they have distributed improved mushroom seeds to women farmers.
"Over 380 women are currently cultivating mushrooms in 38 separate groups in Jawzjan's Sheberghan city and Aqcha district," provincial director of agriculture and livestock Ebadullah Ansar told Salaam Times.
Up to 10 women are working on each home-based mushroom growing farm across the province, he said.
"Our information indicates that these women are the breadwinners of their households. They have become self-sufficient and can make enough for the needs of their families," he said.
"We are looking around to find suitable markets where women can sell their produce at the right time, and a reasonable price," he added.
'We must struggle to expand'
The mushroom farmers are not the only women who have become the breadwinners of their families.
"I started my business two years ago and would like to continue in the future," said Alia Khairkhaw, a vegetable farmer in Sheberghan, noting that her household economy is entirely dependent on growing and selling vegetables.
"Giving up and remaining silent is not the solution," she said. "We must struggle harder to expand our businesses. Considering the efforts that I have made over the years, I do not want to give up and stay at home."
"We want to challenge the prevailing restrictions through logical and appropriate approaches," Khairkhaw said, vowing to continue her fight to maintain her business and advocate for the removal of restrictions on women.
In addition to saving their own families from poverty, women entrepreneurs have rescued the women who work for them as well, said Jawzjan women's rights activist Khair-ul-Nesa Hashimi.
"Thousands of men lost their lives during two decades of conflict in the country, leaving their families without breadwinners," she said. "Many women have started working to fill the gap and become the breadwinners of their families."
"The more employment opportunities are provided for women, the more households' livelihoods would improve, and they could become economically self-sufficient," she noted.
If women were not allowed to work outside the home, Hashimi said, the economic challenges many households are facing would be exacerbated.
'Women are the breadwinners'
Partner organisations of the Jawzjan agriculture department, which support women in various sectors, have said they will continue to employ more women who are interested in agricultural activities this year.
For several years now, the Organisation for Growth and Development in Jawzjan has been implementing projects to encourage women to work in agriculture and become self-sufficient, organisation head Abdul Qayum Sabit told Salaam Times.
"We have trained hundreds of women in various fields including livestock, poultry and beekeeping," he said. "These women have become self-sufficient and can earn a living for their families."
"We plan to cover more women under our agriculture programme this year so they can financially support their families," he added.