In Afghanistan, CRS Goes Green

Afghan garden

Andrew Schaefer examines vegetables growing on the CRS Ghor compound in Chaghcharan, Afghanistan. The gardens are used as demos to show farmers, and also provide food for CRS employees to eat. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

Catholic Relief Services has always fed hungry people—millions of them, over the years. More than that, we help people feed themselves by improving irrigation, encouraging innovations in farming techniques, and increasing crop yields.

But many people don’t know that, in some countries, CRS feeds its own staff using the same methods we develop with our beneficiaries. In a remote area of Afghanistan, cut off from most outside contact during the winter, vegetables grow in two plastic-sheeted greenhouses and three gardens on the CRS compound. The lettuce, onions, eggplant, squash, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and other vegetables grown there are food for 14 CRS staff people who live on the compound year-round.

“In the summer, it’s great to walk a few steps from the CRS kitchen to our garden and get some fresh lettuce for a salad,” says Andrew Schaefer, Head of Office for CRS in Ghor. “In the winter there are very few if any vegetables in the local bazaar. The greenhouses prolong the growing season. Last winter, we were able to harvest some vegetables all year long. Even when there’s snow on the ground, we have radishes, lettuce, beets and coriander to eat.”

Garden model

In addition to providing food for CRS employees who live here, the garden is a demo garden that farmers can see. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

“It’s all organic,” says Mahmoud Biparwa, Technical Advisor for Agriculture and Plant Resources in Ghor. “We don’t use pesticides.” Biparwa’s love for green things extends beyond the compound’s gardens: as an agricultural expert for CRS focused on reforestation, he estimates that he has planted more trees than anyone in Afghanistan.

“CRS gardens piloted drip irrigation to save water in this drought-prone area,” continues Schaefer. “If it’s logistically feasible, CRS may roll out the method in communities we serve. Our compound also composts organic material, and has piloted drought-tolerant forage species that are being tested in the communities where we work.

“It’s great that we can be partially self-sufficient,” says Schaefer. “We have demo gardens to show local farmers—and after that, we can eat what we produce.”

Reported by Laura Sheahen, CRS regional information officer, Asia and the Pacific Rim

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2 Responses to “In Afghanistan, CRS Goes Green”

  1. Moslem Shah Says:

    Hey Andy,

    I am not sure if you see the comments here. Glad to see your report here. This week I had a presentation on the challenges of Afghanistan on building irrigation and dam infrastructures and their impact on the economy.

    The greenhouses are really great. I am planning on having one in my own house when I get back to the country. The vegetables grown in the greenhouse, especially the ones I used when I was in Chaghcharan this past April was really tasty. It is really cost-effective method, eco-friendly with vegetable stock-supply in all the seasons.

  2. Lorraine Michelle Says:

    Dear Andy,

    We are SO impressed at all the hard work you are doing to make Afghanistan more eco-friendly. It’s great to hear that you can go and pick fresh vegetables all year. Or tell your housemates to. And the composting is a wonderful idea!!

    You are a REAL LIVE HERO in our book.

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