Better Water Management Boosts Productivity in Eastern Afghanistan

July 1, 2014


A secondary canal system waterway filter that allows farmers to not only filter trash and detritus but also to direct water flows according to their requirements.

Graham Crouch / World Bank

  • Modern agricultural techniques including irrigation schemes and laser land leveling have increased productivity in farm lands and brought prosperity to farmers in Nangarhar province.
  • This has been accomplished through the help of the On Farm Water Management Project, supported by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which supports water management investments in five regions in Afghanistan.
  • Farmers say that, thanks to these new farming methods, their land is twice as productive and income has doubled.

SURKHRUD DISTRICT, Nangarhar Province – Gul Agha and his farmer friends know a good thing when they see it. Their irrigation canals are flowing twice as fast, their land is twice as productive, and their income has doubled. Now they’re eager for more.

“These modern ideas are helping us so much,” says Gul Agha, 56. “Before we were using old agriculture methods, and we have had three decades of war when our production was almost zero. But now the canal improvement projects, laser land leveling and other new ideas are very good for us.”

Recently, when a visitor arrived at the village of Bar Sultanpur in the Surkhrud district of Nangarhar province, Agha produced a lengthy letter of formal thanks and spent an hour painstakingly going over the benefits of the new On Farm Water Management Project (OFWMP), financed by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which has brought prosperity to his people.

“We are forever grateful and only request that you continue to help our farmers and don’t forget us,” concluded Agha’s letter. “If you keep working with us, we guarantee that some day we will supply all the grains, fruits and vegetables to Kabul and everywhere, and Afghanistan will be a self-sufficient country.”

As head of his village’s community development council (CDC), Agha says he and other local shura leaders, like Akhtar Mohammad, 58, of nearby Dobandi village, agreed in 2012 that rehabilitation and construction of irrigation canals in their region was a top priority. Engineer Inamullah Safi from the Afghan ministry of agriculture, irrigation and livestock proposed the OFWM project to them. “We made the decision to try and the engineer sorted it out for us. Now we really appreciate it,” says Mohammad.

Supported by the ARTF for a total of $25 million, OFWMP supports on-farm water management investments in five regions (central, eastern, southwestern, northeastern and northern) covering a total of 175 irrigation schemes benefiting 50,000 hectares.

Irrigation schemes improves lives

The project improves agricultural productivity by enhancing efficiency of water usage. People are also encouraged to use modern farm technology, such as laser land leveling.

Around Agha’s community and four other villages, two irrigation schemes called Dobandi and Malakan were launched under OFWMP. The irrigation projects, which benefit about 14,000 people, had about four kilometers of ancient irrigation canals lined with concrete, 700 filter structures installed to block debris, culverts for vehicles and flood protection walls built, and community access platforms added so people could safely do washing, or collect buckets of water for their animals, explains Engineer Safi.

“The idea is to avoid severe water loss and to increase its velocity,” he says.

“Before changes were made, it could take six hours for water to be delivered downstream, because there was no appropriate slope, as well as loose banks and water seepage.” 

Graham Crouch / World Bank

" Life is much easier for everybody. Now the water is coming fast and clean, and our land is very productive.  "

Akhtar Mohammad

Farmer, Dobandi village

Graham Crouch / World Bank

Mehrabuddin, 65, who farms two hectares at the tail end of the canal system, agrees.

“The water has sped up six times as fast. Now I wait just one hour and all is well. Before I was losing a lot of crops,” he remarks.

“Life is much easier for everybody,” observes Mohammad, who supports nine children. “Now the water is coming fast and clean, and our land is very productive.”

Mohammad says it used to take two hours to fully irrigate his fields of wheat, onions, carrots and other vegetables, but now, the watering is done in 20 minutes. A field that yielded 600 kg of crop now produces about 1,200 kg.

This change is also due to laser land leveling, which uses a mounted sensor on a tractor to compare terrain elevations so land can be leveled for proper irrigation and drainage. The end result saves water and time, while doubling  productivity.

Farmers have been astonished by this technology, says Safi. “I am getting ten applications daily now. I think they want the entire region leveled,” he says with a chuckle.

Agha said the community is now eager to have the second half of the 10-kilometer-long Dobandi-Malakan canal system rehabilitated and lined in concrete. “After finishing four kilometers, we have seen a great result and want to go ahead and finish the entire system now,” says Agha, again reading his letter of thanks. “Laser leveling is also very effective. So please, don’t postpone because when our economy goes higher, our country will no longer be dependent.”

Major results to date:

  • Today of the 54 schemes, 8 are complete which includes the construction of the following structures:
  1. Construction/reconstruction of 17.425 Km of water courses
  2. Construction of 1799 small and medium irrigation structures (including drops, turnouts, community access points, culverts, supper passages, animal drinking structures

  • 14 local training conducted where about 210 participants from Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation from across the country are trained on different topics such as irrigation water management, survey, design, social mobilization, agronomy, and environment

  • 6 International trainings conducted where 117 participants are trained on On-Farm Water Management, Irrigation Agronomy, System of Rice Intensification, Modern Irrigation systems

  • 154 Irrigation Associations are trained on different water management, irrigation, and agronomy and water law.