Afghanistan Visit: Building the Food Pyramid

Afghan greenhouse

CRS staff visit a new greenhouse in Sare Ahangaran, which introduced vegetables into the local diet. Photo courtesy of Lisa Bandari/Aga Khan Foundation

CRS Senior Legislative Specialist Jill Marie Gerschutz filed this report following a recent trip to Afghanistan:

Out of gratitude to CRS for its work and the importance Muslims and Afghan culure place on hospitality, the communities which we visited often invited our entourage of four to lunch. We called their typical meal the “starch trifecta”: boiled potatoes over rice with naan bread. It’s delicious and keeps us going for hours.

The reason for this diet is simple: potatoes, wheat, cauliflower and lentils are among the few plants that can survive this harsh climate and overused soil. Because of the 5-months growing season, many organizations teach farmers how to properly store potatoes in order to get them through the winter.

Afghan greenhouse

A trench built to reduce erosion and restore the water table snakes along a mountainside. Photo courtesy of Lisa Bandari/Aga Khan Foundation

CRS’ greenhouses are therefore a welcome addition to these communities. Working with the Shura—village elders—and the entire community, CRS identifies farmers who have the time and interest to invest in a greenhouse. CRS contributes to the initial investment and shares the technological knowledge. And a few frames, some plastic, and some new seeds later, the food pyramid in this community expands greatly. Cabbage, green beans, tomatoes, onions, and turnips are some of the nutrient-rich foods that quickly become a part of the diet of the local community.

Our project officer tells me that the community has readily adapted these new vegetables. CRS has added to the value of this investment by organizing a co-op which buys this produce and sells it in the market in Bamiyan center. We purchase from these market stalls, and I am stunned by the size of the cabbages.

So far, these greenhouse farmers use their earnings to buy other food items, such as sugar. Some of their earnings must also be used to maintain the greenhouses. I wonder if, upon returning in five years, we might find an increase in earnings invested in more durable goods such as technology or education.

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