USAID-backed fruit orchards increase yields by over 70% in Helmand

By Abdul Khaleq Hamim

Thanks to financial support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), hundreds of orchards in five districts of Helmand province are now bearing fruit after their establishment in 2020. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

HELMAND -- Hundreds of orchards established with financial assistance from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in five districts of Helmand province have started bearing fruit.

Initial work to establish the orchards began in 2020 under the project, which is still receiving USAID financial support.

Now, pomegranates, peaches, almonds, figs and grape saplings are growing.

The orchards cover 400 hectares of land in Garmsir, Nad-e-Ali, Gereshk, Nawa and Nahr-e-Saraj districts, said Zainullah Zahid, deputy director of the Helmand Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

A farmer reaps fresh fruit from his orchard established with financial assistance from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) May 4 in Nawa district, Helmand province. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

A farmer reaps fresh fruit from his orchard established with financial assistance from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) May 4 in Nawa district, Helmand province. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

"With these orchards bearing fruits in the five districts, the volume of fruit produced in the province has increased by more than 70% from previous years," he said. "The amount of fruit harvested will increase even more in the future when the trees further grow."

"Most of these fruit orchards were established on lands where poppies were cultivated in the past," Zahid said. "This horticulture project has led to a decline in poppy cultivation and growing interest in orchards and alternative crops among farmers in Helmand."

Roots of Peace, a humanitarian non-profit organisation based in California, has been implementing the project.

Wahidullah, director of the organisation in Helmand, said an irrigation system was developed to regularly irrigate the orchards.

Farmers received professional horticulture training and are provided free fertiliser each month, he said.

"Because of timely watering and use of fertiliser, these newly established orchards have better quality fruit compared to other orchards," he added.

"These orchards also have much higher yields, which are very effective in improving farmers' financial situation."

Improving household economies

The orchards have helped increase farmers' income, improving their livelihoods and saving them from poverty.

Before joining the project, Abdul Khaliq, 62, a farmer in Nawa district, cultivated poppy and wheat, with minimal income.

Now, however, his economic problems have eased after his orchard started bearing fruit last year, he said.

"My orchard is 1.2 hectares, and I leased it this year [to another farmer] for 450,000 AFN [$5,100]," he said. "It is good money and has addressed my household's economic problems. I sent my two young sons to a private university with this money."

"I could have never had such a large orchard had it not been for USAID's assistance," he added. "It helped me so much in terms of giving me saplings and fertilisers."

Shamsuddin, 46, a farmer in Gereshk district, said the yields from his orchard cover the expenses for his six-member household.

"Fruits from our orchards are of high quality, and [customers] buy domestic fruits more than imported ones," he said.

Shamsuddin said he expects to use the orchard for up to 10 years.

"This horticulture project has saved us from poverty for years. This is an effective project, and I hope it is implemented in other provinces too."

Afghans badly need the support of the international community and aid agencies, which has helped avoid an even worse humanitarian crisis in the country, he said.

Alternative to poppies

Mohammad Wali, 58, owns an orchard established by the USAID-funded project in Nad-e-Ali district.

His orchard is on 0.60 hectare of land with peach and pomegranate saplings planted on it.

He said he is happy his trees have started bearing fruit and that the income from the orchard is much higher than from poppies.

"I could hardly cover my expenses when I was cultivating poppies," Wali said. "I would work hard the whole year, but smugglers and mafias would pocket all the profit."

"I was like a labourer for drug smugglers and achieved nothing except hard labour and difficulties," he added.

"I would work hard for months but pick 4 to 5kg of opium. It would not even cover my expenses when I would sell them," Wali said. "Now that my orchard is bearing fruit, my income has increased three to four times."

Assadullah, 30, a farmer in Garmsir district, said that he will never cultivate poppies again.

"The yields from fruit trees are higher than any crop," he said. "Compared to previous years when I was cultivating poppies, my income has quadrupled."

Aside from the increased income, Assadullah said he is happy that he has been given an alternative to cultivating a haram crop.

"I had to cultivate poppies because my economic situation was bad and drug smugglers were giving me advance payments during poppy cultivation season," he said. "At the end of the year, when I would collect opium, I would end up with very little profit while smugglers would get all of the profit."

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Helmand is one of Afghanistan's most land-rich provinces. The land of Helmand is very fertile, it has a lot of water, but still, a lot of work is needed in the watershed. During the era of the Republic, Helmand was one of the war-torn provinces whose people suffered not only personal but also sustained financial losses. The Afghan government should help the people of Helmand like that of the other provinces of Afghanistan. It will be even better if international organizations increase their attention to this province. Due to the war, essential work has not been done in Helmand for the past 20 years. Since we have a lot of water in Helmand, we request that international organizations help the people of Helmand with water management. Supplying water to the deserts of Helmand is one of the biggest aspirations of Afghans, especially the residents of Helmand. We request the government and international organizations to make master plans for the deserts of Helmand and to prepare more land in Helmand for cultivation. If only the deserts of Helmand were developed in Afghanistan, I am sure that more than half of Afghanistan could be fed with the products. It has been over 40 years since the Helmand water flowed freely to Iran. The main reason is that Iranians have engaged us Afghans in a war and are consuming our water freely. As an Afghan youth, I want international organizations and the government to control the water in Helmand. Helmand is not less than the Qushtapa Canal. Build Hel


USAID has already carried out many development projects in Afghanistan, greatly benefiting Afghans. The USAID project not only has the role of reconstruction but also provides evidence of the relationship and partnership between the people and nations of Afghanistan and the United States. According to my information, USAID is run with the direct support of the American people.


The orchards that have been built in Helmand province with the help of USAID are a great benefit for our country. First, this way our farmers can find halal food, and our gardens will have a lot of crops, and through our fruit crops, we can have exports, and the export of our country's trade will prosper, and fortunately, our farmers are turning to fruit orchards instead of poppy crops. Because fruit is something useful in every way, both for the economy and for the nutrition and for the export of the country, and it is a matter of pride for us that in our country we have halal orchards instead of poppies, and we wish as we can have fruit gardens in each province, and more poppy crops be cultivated.


Many locusts have been found in Afghanistan's 8 northern and northeastern provinces. These locusts have been seen in Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Kunduz, Samangan, Sarpul, and Takhar provinces. They eat agricultural products and green plants cultivated or grown in Afghanistan. These locusts are a significant threat to the provinces' farmers, society, and the whole country. It may spread to other provinces too. The food problem in Afghanistan is extremely high, which may increase the food shortage problem in Afghanistan. However, the traditional methods of preventing these locusts and at the same time, efforts have been started by the Ministry of Agriculture. Still, I don't think the traditional methods and the efforts started by the Ministry of Agriculture can prevent the damage of locusts. Since many crops, including wheat, arrive in Afghanistan in spring, it is essential to prevent locusts. Hail and unseasonal rains have also caused damage to farmers. Considering their helplessness and poverty, it is hoped that the farmers will be helped.


Instead of poppies, planting and rearing precious things like roses, saffron, strawberries, and... is also beneficial for the farmers and Afghanistan because poppies have disgraced the name of Afghanistan worldwide. When it comes to disgracing, it comes to Afghanistan, while the profit goes to the smugglers of the region and the world. I read in a report two or three years ago that $2 billion of the profit of Afghanistan's poppy goes to Afghanistan. In comparison, $60 billion goes to the pockets of American and European smugglers. The money that remains in Afghanistan also goes into the pockets of smugglers. In other words, common people and farmers do not get enough money even to buy flour and ghee for their families. Through the Salaam Times online magazine, I request that Afghans refrain from poppy cultivation. Please do not disgrace the name of Afghanistan. Plant saffron, plant flowers, plant strawberry... I am aware of USAID's activities. In the past, they have done useful things in Afghanistan, and we hope that they will again play their role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.


Not only did fruits play a role, but many other crops were reasonable alternatives to poppy cultivation. Our fellow citizens were already suffering from war. And the poppy is the plant of the regions where there is war. If the war is contained the way it is now, we will welcome the coming of better days. Not only did the gardens in Helmand give good harvests, but this year, the farmers have stopped planting Hing instead of poppy crops, and many have planted this plant on their lands. The benefits of Hing are many times more than poppy crops, and it is a good substitute. Helmand was the world's largest poppy producer in the last four decades, but fortunately, this harmful plant is no longer planted there. Farmers also grow wheat, cumin, and other agricultural products on their land, giving good yields. We are sending this message to those who kept the war going in our homeland and are still doing so. If they don't stay quiet, they will also be polluted with the harmful smoke of poppy. With the hope of a prosperous, developed, and self-sufficient Afghanistan...


Afghanistan is an agricultural country. The land was fertile, but the harvest was not good since there was no traditional agriculture and horticulture. However, now agriculture and horticulture are done professionally, and yields have been significantly increased. Farmers and traders who buy fruits and vegetables are also happy, but since the past month, the hail has caused a lot of damage to gardeners and farmers in several provinces. Now is the time for fruit trees to flower, and some plants were bearing fruit; all of them were lost due to the hail.