FEATURE STORY May 16, 2019

Afghan Farmers Find Solutions a Phone Call Away

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The Farmer's Call Center was established by the Farm Water Management Project and helps over 250 Afghan farmers everyday find solutions to their farming problems. 

Rumi Consultancy / World Bank


Story Highlights

  • Farmers across Afghanistan can now dial a toll-free number to get their questions answered about irrigation, planting, and fertilizing.
  • The farmers’ call center is staffed with experts, who can advise on farming and livestock and help monitor serious issues like disease outbreaks.
  • The call center has helped thousands of farmers since June 2018 as Afghanistan's worsening security situation prevented agricultural specialists from making field visits.

DISTRICT 3, Kabul City— It is just past 8 am and members of the Farmers’ Call Center (FCC) team are already busy attending to callers, searching their computers as they respond to questions.

The call center, on the west side of Kabul city, is equipped with computers linked to a database on agricultural issues to support the 15 On-Farm Water Management Project (OFWMP) experts who operate the center. The experts field about 250–300 calls a day, covering a wide range of topics. “About 40–50 percent of queries are about crop disease and the rest covers irrigation, livestock disease, planting, and fertilizing,” says Mohibullah Raza, 26, one of the experts.

The FCC team is made up of specialists in a wide range of fields, including agriculture, agronomy, animal science, and irrigation. Each team member has passed theoretical and practical exams on farming and livestock and received training on how to use the online database to better assist callers.

“We want all farmers to call ‘150’ for issues that they have with their land and livestock,” says Ishaq Sahebzada, OFWMP Project Manager at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL).

The FCC was created in response to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, which is preventing extension workers from making field trips to address farming problems. “The security situation is not good,” says Sahebzada. “Before the setup of the Farmers’ Call Center, we sent extension workers to meet the farmers in person and teach them new farming methods. Now that the system to reach out and advise farmers in person is no longer feasible, OFWMP together with the General Directorate of Extension and Agriculture Development initiated this call center to fill the gap.”

Call center lines are open daily during government working hours from Saturday to Thursday. There are, however, plans to expand the call center hours, says Sahebzada, to better accommodate early-morning and late-night calls when farmers are most likely to encounter an issue at the start or end of their work day.

The call center has helped expand OFWMP’s reach and efficacy by providing an opportunity for farmers from all over the country to receive expert advice from qualified agricultural professionals. The FCC supports OFWMP in its work to boost the efficiency of water use, increase agricultural production, and improve agricultural practices.

. According to Sahebzada, this information can help OFWMP track the outbreak of diseases and the spread of infestations as well as identify key areas of improvement to better target OFWMP projects in specific areas.

OFWMP supports on-farm water management investments in five regions—central, eastern, southwest, northeast, and northern—covering a total of 10,000 hectares. It is implemented by MAIL and supported by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), administered by the World Bank on behalf of 34 donors.


"We called the Farmers’ Call Center and described the problem. They told us how to treat the disease and solved our problem…When we call “150”, we know the problem will be solved. "
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Bahram Shams
farmer, Kabul city

MULTIMEDIA


Vital Advice to Farmers

Mohammad Asim Bahrami, 53, an FCC expert, says that in his experience, the call center has provided vital advice to farmers. “Once I received a call from a farmer who complained his cow was thin and produced little milk,” he recounts. “I suggested that he feed it nutritious fodder. I also gave him some key tips to improve the animal's growth. A few days later he called back and said his cow was recovering and producing more milk by the day.”

Like many callers, the farmer was grateful for the advice, Asim says. “He was very happy and offered to bring me some milk. I told him he didn't need to bring me milk and that we were here to help them.”

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The call center is an easily accessible help center for thousands of Afghan farmers in the rural areas who are not able to meet the agriculture experts due to security restrictions. Photo credit: Rumi Consultancy / World Bank
 

Bahram Shams, 52, a farmer working at a greenhouse, has used the call center several times to resolve issues. “In the winter, the greenhouse was very humid and the flowers began to show signs of disease. We called the FCC and described the problem. They told us how to treat the disease and solved our problem,” he says.

Shams is impressed by the professionalism of the FCC team. “They always have a very good attitude whenever we call. This winter we called the center about problems with temperature and frost and the experts helped us. When we call ‘150’, we know the problem will be solved.”



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