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The majority of Afghans, some 72%, live in rural areas. Rural communities are hampered by a lack of infrastructure and basic services, whereas last year’s drought hit agricultural production and drove another quarter of a million rural inhabitants to urban areas. In terms of regional policy, the Afghan government promotes a inclusive-development strategy for both rural and urban areas. In its last public policy dialogue, the Serena dialogue series, the EU Delegation brought together a panel of experts to discuss how to bring about economic development.
The agricultural sector employs about 40% of Afghans overall and more than half of the rural labor force works in the agricultural sector. To reduce levels of extreme poverty, rural communities need universal access to basic services. Minimum basic services for each community should cover both health and education needs, as well as fund infrastructure investments (improved roads and access to electricity). Also small-scale irrigation projects are important for rural communities. Any action that improves rural livelihoods would deepen the legitimacy of the Afghan government and public sector in general.
While the sector’s share of the overall economy has declined in the last decade, agriculture still makes substantial contributions to Afghanistan’s licit economic growth. However, rural areas also feed the illicit economy through opium poppy-cultivation. To find alternatives to poppy cultivation, other vegetable production is encouraged. Grape orchards, pistachio cultivation and pomegranate production are new licit high-value crops that open new opportunities for exports. The EU promotes the handling of saffron for exports by funding a processing centre for local farmers in Balkh province.
As part of vocational training and improving livelihoods, the EU also supports packaging and marketing of food stuffs, such as almonds, figs and berries. The Afghan agricultural economy depends on new job opportunities in food processing. With improved security, available resources could bring a boost to rural areas.
Rural inhabitants are generally more vulnerable to insurgents’ influence and the insecurity affects the education sector. The school system suffers from shortages of school buildings, books and supplies, as well as lack of access to public schools in remote areas. The quality of instruction is often a concern, whereby community-based education has proven successful in improving educational access for girls in rural areas of Afghanistan.
A large part of the rural population in Afghanistan depends on livestock for their livelihood. Previously, EU programs have provided training to farmers and livestock owners in order to boost the agricultural sector, raising rural livelihoods and promoting economic development, as well as working on health and nutrition in rural areas. The rural communities have been engaged in discussions locally to raise awareness among rural inhabitants of issues surrounding access to healthcare. Surveys of programs related to aid to health and agriculture showed that even 80% of rural residents were satisfied with agricultural services and aid as provided mainly through donor programs.