MOMEN ABAD VILLAGE, Behssod District, Nangarhar Province - Fragile saplings which represent the future for farmer Hashim Sherzad are tucked between rows of pea plants ripe for the picking. For several hours each day, the 42-year-old farmer carefully waters, weeds and tends these tiny lemon trees in his small orchard near Momen Abad village.
It’s an investment of time, labor and love from Sherzad, who expects his income to eventually triple once the trees mature in three years’ time and fruit can be harvested. “In this country, we all love the lemon. It is an important fruit for us especially during Ramadan, when we need it in our drinks because we have been fasting,” he explains.
Still, Sherzad says he could not have managed this new enterprise alone. It was his community’s shura (council) that selected and encouraged him to take part in the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP), a Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock initiative supported by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). Aimed at rehabilitating existing fruit orchards and establishing new plots, the project helps farmers like Sherzad who own arable land with a good water source. Akbar Hussein Mirza, the project’s coordinator for Nangarhar province, stated that about 40 lemon orchards have recently been established with NHLP assistance.
Mirza says farmers pay 25 percent of the saplings’ cost, but are given free fertilizer, micronutrients, pesticides and ‘intercrops,’ like peas and zucchini, to grow between the trees while they mature.
It is only the limited amount of available saplings that has so far slowed the project’s progress, he says. The variety of lemon being used comes from certified South African root stock which is hardy and highly adaptable to Afghan growing conditions. While the project’s saplings cost 150 Afghani (approximately $2.65) each, and are more expensive than the readily available variety from Pakistan, the South African stock are proven producers of high quality fruit, says Mirza.
“We are hoping to get maybe 25,000 more saplings for next year,” says Mirza. “Because when people are happy like this, there will always be more demand.”