An alternative Afghanistan: The MSSG path to progress

WO2 Marc Lovatt is working as part of the Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG) in central Helmand Province. Here he writes about implementing a subsidised seed scheme which has seen Afghan farmers growing new crops of vegetables.

WO2 Marc Lovatt

WO2 Marc Lovatt

Not too far from the beginning of our tour we identified that the farmers around Forward Operating Base (FOB) Khar Nikar (KNK), might be open to the idea of growing alternative vegetables, rather than just corn or maize.

The team at MSST NES (N) heard the call and made enquiries in an attempt to provide a solution. It was soon discovered that within the headquarters building in MOB Price, was an office of a member of the NGO AVIPA+, with a storage and distribution facility on the outskirts of Gereshk District Centre DC.

Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Productive Agriculture Plus (AVIPA+) is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by International Relief and Development (IRD) in twenty provinces in Afghanistan. The original AVIPA+ program was launched in September 2008 in response to the prolonged drought conditions of recent years. Working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), in 2008-2009 AVIPA distributed more than 10,300 tons of high quality wheat seed and some 33,000 tons of fertilizer at a reduced cost to nearly 297,000 vulnerable farmers, who also received training in best wheat production practices.

Having spoken to the AVIPA+ rep, it was found that they could provide alternative seeds, along with fertilizer and tools all for around 1200 Afghanis per farmer. Each farmer would receive 4 x bags of fertilizer, a selection of spring vegetable seeds, (large tins or foil bags of: tomatoes, radish, cucumber, lettuce, spring onions, spinach and so forth). A member of MSST was then dispatched to KNK in order to gauge if there was any uptake from local Nationals (LNs) and to list those interested.

On arrival at the FOB work began. The word was put out via the local Security Council regarding the seed, MSST accompanied patrols around the area engaging with locals and spreading the message of what was available, costs etc.

A shura spreads the word about the seed scheme

A shura spreads the word about the seed scheme

A shura had also been arranged which did a lot to spread the word about the seed scheme. By the end of the next day over sixty interested farmers had registered themselves, or in some cases representatives had given names of villagers wanting to sign-up; within three days the list contained some 130 individuals. The MSST rep returned to MOB Price. However, the interest was such that locals continued to give their names at FOB KNK which the Coy passed onto MSST. The count reached 180, a quick calculation resulted in a total weight exceeding 35 tonnes and a halt was called. Undoubtedly there were those locals who would have been disappointed, but it was felt that any more would have been simply too much to transport in one lift.

The AVIPA+ rep in NES (N), was given the details and duly delivered the merchandise; well he hired local workers who made the job of unloading 50kg bags look exceedingly easy! MSST, had had to ‘borrow’ three containers from within MOB Price in order to transport the 35-tonne load.These were placed outside the main gate for ease of access for the contractors. Once filled the consignment was loaded onto the next combat replenishment patrol (CLP) heading out to KNK, accompanied by the MSST consignee.

Once on the ground a plan for distribution was discussed and next morning distribution began. To ensure smooth running a team of able volunteers was put together, this included a Captain from The Mercian Regiment with some of his guys, the ANA Commander of FOB KNK and some of his men, an interpreter and the MSST representative. Twenty bundles were made up; four sacks of fertilizer, packages of seeds, a rake and a shovel per bundle. This proved to be ideal as each farmer could see immediately what he was to receive for his cash. He also knew he was paying a subsidised price.

Over the next four days a queue was outside the FOB from 0700hrs until 1700hrs. The team worked steadily and the farmers and villages were happy with what they got.

It can be said that as far as AVIPA, the loading and transportation, this was largely a matter of logistical balancing, timing and coordination. The containers are plentiful in theatre but getting one on an ‘official’ basis proved very difficult. Prior to distribution Tashkera (local identity cards), were used to identify farmers, thus cutting down on fraud. The sacks are heavy, a reliable workforce was essential.

The locals were very keen on this project and wanted more.

One thought on “An alternative Afghanistan: The MSSG path to progress

  1. Hi my love,
    Can’t wait to see you when you get home missed you loads and loads. Looking forward to our glass of wine in the garden.

    Cant wait to see you on the 9th with big hugs and kisses.

    Love you loads
    Forever yours
    Your Sandy


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