Programme Index Listing

Main implementer
Other implementers
Technical backstopping from ILO The Lab
2015 - 2020
Total budget
USD $9.4 million
Annual budget
USD $1.5 million

Project description / objective

To strengthen selected agriculture value chains and foster an entrepreneurship ecosystem in northern Afghanistan for government and businesses to innovate, compete and contribute to the creation of more and better jobs for those who need them most.

Programme overview

Using a market systems development approach, R2J collaborated with 27 private companies and 12 public players in northern Afghanistan. The project targeted five selected value chains (grapes, cotton and carpets, poultry, dairy and livestock) and addressed cross-cutting issues such as access to finance and business development services, and women’s economic empowerment. These sectors are labour-intensive, have a high reliance on wage labour inputs - not just smallholder production - and can create jobs accessible to poor and vulnerable groups.

The project combined quick-wins and light-touch interventions as part of a two-pronged strategy to improve inclusive employment for marginalised groups: Technical and business management upskilling for the target groups in the selected value chains on the one hand, whilst on the other developing inclusive business models to increase company productivity, opening up new market opportunities and creating decent work opportunities for the poor.

Market systems focus

Carpet Manufacturing

Traditionally a female-dominated trade, but women are becoming excluded because of social norms that limit mobility outside their homes and their lack of skills in modern digitalised designs.

Livestock health

In the Samangan region about one in eight sheep and goats die every year due to lack of access to - and poor quality of - veterinary services in the villages. Diagnosis and prescription skills are poor.

Poultry innovation

The poultry sector has grown significantly during recent years, but farmers still lack access to inputs and knowledge on how to improve the performance of their businesses and supply chain.

Quality milk collection

The dairy sector is very important in the Afghan economy with a high consumption of dairy products. It is mostly women farmers that sell milk to dairy companies to earn a living. Milk quality is not the best and rejection rates by processors are high. Milk is then spoiled and farmers lose incomes. Productivity per cow is also very low, so farmer incomes are low too. Milk preservation/storage infrastructure is poor.

Agricultural value-chains for grapes, almonds, cotton

The drive for decent job creation requires spaces for dialogue to reinforce unity of purpose among actors and ensure cross-learning while focusing on addressing pertinent issues in the different agricultural value chains.

Entrepreneurship ecosystem 

Creating, operating, growing and expanding a company has a wide range of challenges in Afghanistan - from limited access to finance, to limited access to market information and limited business management capacities. 

Programme interventions

Carpet manufacturing

Community carpet weaving centres and wool spinning centres
R2J supported three local carpet companies to establish and pilot women’s community carpet weaving and wool spinning centres with safer working conditions and childcare facilities. The centres focused on women refugees and returnees. Participants received training to produce modern carpets based on digital designs suitable for export markets. Two carpet companies adopted this new business model, opening five new weaving centers and continuing training and hiring women in the region.  These interventions generated USD $1,440,000+ net additional income by creating 1,050+ jobs for forcibly displaced women, and improved working conditions for 1650+ women. These women refugees and returnees are now socio-economically integrated with improved access to entrepreneurship and skills development opportunities.

Livestock health

Improving access to para-veterinary services
In 2016 R2J approached the Afghan Veterinary Association (AVA) to do an in-depth training needs assessment and design a training programme to make 18 veterinary shop owners qualified as ‘paravets’ to increase farmer access to animal health services. In 2020 this intervention resulted in the radical improvement of sheep and goats’ health and contributed to additional income for  farmers in Samangan province. 97.5 per cent of farmers covered now believe in regularly accessing veterinary services to keep their sheep and goats healthy. Additional paravets also came to the market seeing an opportunity for their business

Poultry sector innovation

Organic fertiliser production
R2J supported a local company to provide theoretical and practical training to poultry farmers / enterprises on how to produce quality compost from chicken litter. The project co-financed the research on chicken litter conversion processes to prepare and pilot-test organic fertiliser. A brand of organic fertiliser is now on the market. This puts commercial value to chicken litter and reduces dumping of waste as well as reducing pollution in suburban areas. 

Poultry buyback system
R2J developed a poultry buyback system in collaboration with a local poultry company. One outstanding outgrower then launched his own poultry company and started his own buyback system with more than 1030+ women, helping them generate USD $219,000+ net additional income.  

Quality milk collection

Improving milk collection and milk handling  
R2J collaborated with Pakiza, a major dairy processing company to improve the quality of collected milk. Women farmers were trained in good animal husbandry practices and milk handling. Several milk collection centres were built to improve milk collection. As a result another milk company was set up, tweaking the business model slightly to have mobile milk collectors (using motorbikes with mounted chilling tanks) to increase the quantity of milk collected. Rejection rates further dropped from 13 per cent to zero. Currently, these companies have fully adopted and invested in the business model, which generated close to USD $90,000 for more than 2,500 women farmers in conflict-affected districts of northern Afghanistan.  

Agricultural value chains (grapes, almonds, cotton)

Multi-stakeholder platforms for value-chain coordination in grapes and cotton 
R2J brought together the Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI), the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livelihoods (MAIL) to drive the decent job creation agenda. The project helped convene multi-stakeholder platforms to promote coordination and collaboration among market systems actors working in the same sectors, widening this to include universities, civil society, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Women’s Affairs Ministry.

Home-grown cotton Breeder Seed
During three years, R2J collaborated with MAIL and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to develop Breeder Seed suited to Afghanistan’s agro-ecological zones. The cotton value chain had been struggling with falling cotton output as well as pest and disease infestation because of too many imports of uncharacterised seed varieties. By 2020, with the support of the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA), there were more than 15MT of Breeder Seed and nearly 10MT of Foundation Seed ready for multiplication by the private sector.   

Cold chain transportation of grapes
The project partnered with two local grape processing firms interested in improving their storage and transportation of fresh grapes to ensure correct grape handling, particularly for export markets. After two successful (and well adopted)  interventions one of them set up a new logistics company in partnership with two other major cold storage firms. This has led to the creation of a major cold chain transportation and distribution network in Balkh which supports all types of horticulture farmers in the area. The cold storage facilities have improved the availability of local fresh grapes from two months to five months in a year. Local consumers now have access to affordable fresh grapes for longer. 

Entrepreneurship ecosystem 

Business management training  
R2J supported the development of a reliable entrepreneurship and business management service tailored to the needs of small businesses. The project adapted the ILO’s global Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) training package. It contributed to the development of a pool of 35 active trainers and nine master trainers who are now able to train potential and existing entrepreneurs. As a result, more than 7,720 people (69 per cent women) have been trained in business management skills through the SIYB Get Ahead and Financial Literacy training packages and created 3,350+ businesses and 3,130+ sustainable jobs. Accordingly, 19 people (74 per cent women) have newly been certified as financial literacy trainers and collaborate with SIYB Afghanistan (a youth-run local BDS company) to deliver training. 

Access to mobile money 
R2J collaborated with a newly established local mobile money company to expand its outreach in Mazar-e-Sharif providing access to digital financial services. Afghan Besim, the service provider, extended the service to include mobile sim sales, airtime, mobile money, clients’ savings link with banks and pay-as-you-go solar home systems services. As a result more than 100,000 people have had access to these mobile money services. With the advent of COVID-19 the service has become even more relevant as business transactions are now more contactless. More institutional customers are now using the service to make payments to people in rural and hard-to-reach areas. 

Access to financial literacy through mobile phones   
Through a partnership with Viamo, an international social enterprise, R2J contributed to the development of a mobile-based information-sharing programme on financial literacy. This has resulted in 55,000+ Afghans listening to information on financial literacy and improving their budgeting, saving and overall financial skills. The digital information service has now grown to host information on COVID-19;  polio; female reproductive health and rights; de-mining; child rights; early childhood development; Sesame Street (educational information presented in songs with Elmo and crew from “Baghch-e-Simsim”); and Jhpiego’s Urban Health Initiative. It is reaching more than 600,000 people.  

Access to certifications on international quality standards 
Five agro-processing companies took on the challenge, and succeeded, in meeting international food safety standards (getting HACCP and/or ISO 22000 certifications). Afghanistan's standards system in non-functional. Two milk processors,  a fresh grapes exporter, a cooking oil manufacturer and a cold storage company invested in the international standard resulting in contracts to supply horticulture products to the international army bases, grapes to India, and milk products on airlines.

Covid-19 support clinic for MSMEs
By the end of 2019 R2J had a pool of 15 business trainers and mentors, trained by the ILO International Training Centre. When Covid-19 hit, R2J made them available to a wide range of SMEs to support their development of Covid-19 adjustment strategies. This helped them survive the economic impact of lockdown and recover from losses by finding innovative solutions to slower their activities without shutting down their businesses. To date none of R2J’s 27 partnering companies shut down their activities during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Covid19 awareness campaign 
R2J collaborated with Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Industry to promote precautionary health and safety measures against Covid-19 through an awareness campaign circling several industrial parks around Mazar-e-Sharif.

Notable results (systemic change, poverty impact)

  • Contributed to the improvement of 49,890+ jobs (including 3,665 for women) for smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs, service providers and employees in partner companies (especially with regards to income generation, job stability and occupational health and safety)
  • Supported the creation of 5,500+ jobs (including 78 per cent for women) for smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs, service providers and employees in partner companies of the above-mentioned selected sectors. 
  • Helped to generate USD $14,230,000+ for vulnerable groups including MSMEs, forcibly displaced people, returnees, poor farmers and workers, as well as the unemployed. 
  • Collaborated with 27 private companies and 12 public players to achieve these results, using the market systems development approach. 

Women’s economic empowerment

  • 2600+ new refugee women-owned enterprises created through partnerships with local carpet processing companies in forcibly displaced communities around Mazar-e-Sharif. 
  • 2500+ women dairy farmers in conflict-affected territories of northern Afghanistan improved their jobs thanks to improved access to market with two major dairy processing companies.

Skills development

  • 7,720+ people (69 per cent women) learned business management skills through ILO SIYB Get Ahead and Financial Literacy training packages, which facilitated the creation 3,364 businesses and 3,136 sustainable jobs. 19 people (74 per cent women) have newly been certified as financial literacy trainers and collaborate with SIYB Afghanistan (a youth-run local BDS company) to deliver training.
  • Nine SIYB Master Trainers and 15 business coaches and mentors were developed with the support of SIYB Afghanistan and the ILO International Training Centre.  
  • 2700+ women were trained in carpet weaving and wool spinning generating an increased income of USD $1,440,000+.
  • Four companies took on the challenge (and succeeded!) in being certified in international food safety standards (HACCP and/or ISO 22000) to improve their competitiveness in international markets. 

Financial inclusion – skills and access

  • 10,000+ people have had access to newly established mobile money services. 
  • 49,000+ people have listened to information on financial literacy and improved their budgeting, savings and overall financial skills through Viamo’s mobile-based information sharing service.
  • 19 people (74 per cent women) have been certified as financial literacy trainers and collaborate with SIYB Afghanistan to deliver training.
  • 3,150+ people have benefitted from buyback systems with cotton, grapes, processing and poultry companies.

Systemic change

  • Afghan cotton Breeder Seed now available through ARIA as a result of internal plant breeding capacity within ICARDA, MAIL and ARIA (more than 15MT of Breeder Seed and nearly 10MT of Foundation Seed ready for multiplication by the private sector.)
  • Improved veterinary services contributed to reduce livestock mortality rates and to generate USD $11,425,000+ for 43,848 livestock farmers, directly connected to 23 AVA-trained paravets, who also increase incomes by close to USD $80,000 over three years.
  • Establishment of a new cold chain transportation and distribution network system in Balkh. Local grapes now available for five months (up from two months) to Afghan consumers. 
  • Established poultry outgrower schemes, benefitting 1,030+ people (including 1,000 women) and generating USD $219,000+ for them. 
  • New ties sustainably established between two dairy processing firms of Mazar and 2,030+ women dairy farmers of Dawlatabad district. Dairy companies sustained demand for fresh milk through diversified markets and new dairy products developed with technical support from the project. 
  • 2700+ women refugees and returnees are now socio-economically integrated with an improved access to entrepreneurship and skills development opportunities in carpet weaving and wool processing supply chain.
  • Promotion of an entrepreneurship ecosystem through the combination of business management training and the creation of a cluster of business development services in Mazar-e-Sharif. The service is now widely utilised across the country. More than five different BDS providers are servicing the market nationally.
  • The digital information service has expanded beyond Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) and financial literacy to cover reproductive health, COVID-19, polio, socio-economic surveys, child rights and early childhood development.

[updated May 2021]