A Stronger Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan (Infographic)

October 30, 2017–After four years, the Capacity Building and Change Management II Program in Afghanistan has concluded. See what we accomplished in this handy infographic.


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With New Skills Come New Attitudes

Amina Haidari coaches her civil servant counterpart in Kandahar DAIL.

For civil servants at the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture in Kandahar, learning new skills was an eye-opening experience.

Every morning, Amina Haidary arrives at work at the provincial agriculture office in Kandahar, where she has worked since 2012. Among her 76 colleagues, she is the only woman.

Haidary, who specializes in finance and administration, works alongside civil servants to provide them with on-the-job training and mentoring. She is one of 93 change management specialists who work with USAID’s Capacity Building and Change Management II Program to strengthen the human and institutional capacity of the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, as well as its 20 provincial offices and 50 district agriculture offices.

“I always had to work hard being among people who believe that a woman cannot train a man,’ she said. ‘Even though many wanted me to leave the job, I stayed and showed that a woman can do her job as well as a man.”

Haidary is part of the four-member capacity-building program team in Kandahar.

“My days typically begin with training in computer and internet skills. I simultaneously teach them administrative and finance procedures, basically everything they need to perform their jobs more effectively and provide better service to our farmers,’ she said.

Even small changes can make a huge difference for the civil servants in their day-to-day jobs. Qasam is human resource manager at the Kandahar office. In the past, he said, it was difficult to find and access the files of colleagues who had left.

‘Since Amina showed us how to create folders and make simple databases on our computers, we can now find employees’ data easily and finish our work on time,’ he said.

Haidary provides support and training to civil servants in inventory, accounting, procurement, human resources, and more. ‘They accepted me once they recognized how much these new skills have improved their performance and made their work easier,’ Haidary said.

“Thanks to [Amina’s] dedication and patience, many of [our public employees] have advanced in ways they never would have thought of before”

‘Esmatullah Ghafri, program team leader, Kandahar agriculture office

Esmatullah Ghafri is the program’s team leader in Kandahar. He says Haidary is dedicated, energetic, and always positive.

“She proved her ability and used her skills to make changes and build the capacity of her male counterparts,’ Ghafri said. ‘Thanks to her dedication and patience, many of them have advanced in ways they never would have thought of before.’


This story is made possible with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of IESC and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

In Cambodia, Organizations Get Closer to Achieving their Missions

Borey Koy, executive director of MediaOne (Photo: MediaOne)

With robust training, a Cambodian NGO is transformed into a leader

Cambodia has struggled for political stability for 50 years, and in that context, the free flow of information and the ability to have your voice heard is critically important. Media for Education and Development in Action is a non-partisan, independent Cambodian organization that empowers communities by giving a voice to underrepresented people works to ensure that all Cambodians have equal access to information.

Cambodia continues to develop’the poverty rate is steadily declining’but the country still faces challenges and NGOs such as MEDIA One, as it is known, play a critical role in advancing Cambodia’s human, economic and overall development.

MEDIA One is exactly the kind of local organization that USAID seeks to partner with on development projects, and MEDIA One has been eager to design and lead activities that directly contribute to its own mission.

But first, the organization needed to develop a better understanding of good financial management and oversight to meet the agency’s regulations for managing and implementing programs.

‘As a small local NGO, there has traditionally been little opportunity for our staff receive training,’ said Michelle Williams, a program advisor at MEDIA One.

“We now feel better prepared to implement our exciting new program.”

MEDIA One connected with the Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) Program, whose goal is to strengthen the skills of local organizations to preprare them to partner with USAID and to work more effectively in service of their missions.

Over the past two years, staff members at MEDIA One have attended 15 training sessions and received 22 additional hours of technical assistance from the program on a variety of topics.

‘The program provides assistance to our senior management team and helps us to improve our policies and regulations,’ said Executive Director Borey Koy.

With new skills and processes in place, MEDIA One operates more effectively and is better able to navigate the USAID’s challenging regulatory environment.

‘Our organization recently received its first direct funding from USAID,’ Williams said, ‘and we now feel better prepared to implement our exciting new program.’


CBCLO helps Cambodian nonprofit and non-governmental organizations strengthen their management capacity and understanding of USAID rules and regulations. Since the program began in 2014, it has provided assistance to several hundred NGOs in Cambodia.

This story is made possible with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of IESC and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Solar Panels Power Rural Agriculture Offices

CBCMP-II installed solar panels in three offices in Nangarhar Province

For civil servants working in the local offices of the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, there are many challenges to their daily work. A stable electricity supply is one of the main obstacles that keeps them from providing good services to Afghan farmers and herders.

To tackle this issue, the Capacity Building and Change Management Program II (CBCMP-II) installed solar panels in three local offices in Nangarhar Province. Together, these three offices serve more than 13,000 farmers who cultivate 28,000 hectares of land, making them the most important agriculture offices in the region.

In addition to the solar panels, the program provides technology, equipment, and long-term, on-the-job training to civil servants to improve their skills. Across Afghanistan, in 20 regional and 40 local agriculture ministry offices, CBCMP-II has deployed ‘change management specialists’ who are embedded throughout the ministry and work side-by-side with civil servants. The goal of the program is to strengthen the human and institutional capacity of the ministry to provide better services to Afghan farmers and herders.

The improvements to the civil servants’ working environments have been dramatic.

“Whenever we needed to prepare a document, we had to go to [the office] in Jalalabad, which is almost 50 kilometers away. Now, with all new equipment and stable electricity, we can print and produce our documents in a timely manner, and efficiently communicate with farmers,” said Aziz Ullah, agriculture manager in Kama District.

“We provided all necessary equipment to make these local Ag offices functional, and our staff have been training civil servants to adopt new technologies and improved administrative practices to increase their work efficiency and expertise,” said Noor Seddiq, who directs the program in Afghanistan.

The agriculture sector is critically important to Afghanistan’s economy and future development, since about 80 percent of the population relies on agriculture for its livelihood, either directly or indirectly.

The Capacity Building and Change Management Program II runs through July 2017.

This story is made possible with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of IESC and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Finding a Voice, Finding a Path

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Finding a Voice, Finding a Path

by Esther Lee
Najeba, a civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock in Kabul, Afghanistan.

As a recent transplant to the D.C area, I can’t help but feel like a small fish in a big pond from time to time. This city attracts the best and the brightest. It can be ruthlessly competitive ‘a harsh reality for someone from a relatively small town where, to a degree, I felt ‘special.’ It is easy to succumb to feelings of insecurity and anxiety, to not speak up for fear of saying something ‘stupid.’ Sometimes I feel as vulnerable as an egg without its shell.

I have been the Afghanistan programs intern at IESC, for just a short time, but thankfully, the environment has been truly welcoming and non-hierarchical. I welcomed the opportunity to contribute a blog post for International Women’s Day, even though I had no idea what I would write.

And then I read about Najeba Karemi. Her story struck a chord.

Najeba is a civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock in Kabul, Afghanistan. As a woman in the male-dominated world of government and agriculture, her path was not easy.

‘I lacked the confidence to even raise my hand and voice my opinions in front of my peers,’ she said. ‘I lacked the required skills to be able to effectively carry out my position’s responsibilities; I felt hugely inadequate.’

For me’a woman and a minority who did not come from privilege’this hit close to home. Suddenly I felt a kinship with a woman I’d never met, who lives many time zones away, and who has likely experienced far more hardship in life than I ever will.

But for one small moment in time, we carried the same heavy heart. We shared a desire to speak up, a yearning to stand tall.

Najeba received coaching and mentoring through the Capacity Building & Change Management II Program, which IESC implements. The program strengthens the agriculture ministry by modernizing systems and technology and by embedding a cadre of ‘change management specialists,’ experienced Afghans who work side-by-side with civil servants to build their skills.

Najeba’s skills increased, and so did her confidence. ‘The agriculture sector in Afghanistan is still very much a male dominated environment even though women have always played a critical role,’ she said. ‘It can be intimidating at times, to enter into a meeting and be expected to speak your mind, it was not easy for me at the beginning. Now I lead meetings.’

As a manager with the home economy department at the ministry, Najeba designs and implements food security and other agriculture projects to women farmers, a task that can be dangerous as well as undervalued. Because of her own struggles and achievements, she encourages a legacy of women to feel empowered and strong. ‘It’s a truly great feeling to go out to the villages, speak to the women who live there and be able to provide them with the technical knowledge they so desperately need, to raise their income and adequately feed their families. It’s a feeling of pride that I am now trying to install into my own children.’

As the world recognizes International Women’s Day, we see Hollywood actresses given large and well-funded platforms to discuss global women’s issues and garner a worldwide audience. While their accomplishments are impressive, celebrity spokespeople are detached from everyday life. It is women like Najeba who truly inspire me.  Candid about her insecurities, relentlessly hardworking and quick to recognize those that helped her along the way, Najeba is blazing a trail. To me, she is bravery personified and a role model’not just to me, not just to women, but to all.

This blog was written as part of IESC’s International Women’s Day 2016 campaign. To view all posts related to this campaign, click here

Building Stronger Local Organizations in Cambodia

For Cambodians returning to their native country, starting over is an extraordinary challenge. Few of those returning have much, if any, knowledge of the local language and customs; even fewer have the necessary resources. The Returnee Integration Support Center, or RISC, was established in 2009 as a locally owned and led organization dedicated to helping returnees become independent, productive members of Cambodian society and ensuring their long-term integration into the community.

Villa Kim (left), co-director of RISC, received management training from the CBCLO Program. RISC has now established robust management policies and practices so that it can better serve Cambodia’s returnee population.

RISC is staffed by a small, dedicated team of four people. In 2014, RISC was identified to receive funding from the USAID mission in Cambodia; however, with no written policies, procedures, or electronic accounting system, RISC was ineligible for funding.

The organization began working with the Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) Program to improve RISC’s financial, administrative, procurement, M&E, and organizational management systems.

Since then, RISC staff members have attended four trainings, including courses on USAID allowable and unallowable costs, QuickBooks for NGOs, concept note development, and M&E indicators. In addition, CBCLO staff provided nearly 80 hours of direct mentorship and support to RISC to develop finance and procurement policies. As a result of the training and support, RISC adopted QuickBooks accounting software to accurately track expenses.

The results were immediate and significant. RISC is now able to generate financial reports that allow them to better understand their financial needs and resources.

‘[Program implementer] IESC helped RISC develop items that RISC never had before: an internal policy, financial and procurement policies and guidance to create forms for financial use,’ said Villa Kim, RISC’s co-director.

As a result of this support, RISC is a stronger organization that can be sustained into the future. What is more, RISC can capitalize on these improvements to scale its activities for Cambodian returnees.

This story is made possible with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of IESC and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

For Afghan Farmers, A Ministry Prepared to Serve

Employees of the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock “clock in” for the day on a handwritten ledger. Photo: Noor Seddiq


By Leigh Stephens and Lisa Chensvold

For the staff of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock in Kabul, ‘clocking in’ to work each day was a burdensome, time-consuming endeavor that involved standing in line for a long as 45 minutes to sign in on a handwritten attendance ledger. The same process was repeated at the end of the day.

After years of conflict and instability, inefficiencies like this are unfortunately all too common in Afghanistan. At the agriculture ministry, the problems were systemic, wasting hours of productive employee time and ultimately rendering the ministry unable to achieve its primary purpose: delivering critical agricultural services to farms and farmers throughout Afghanistan. Almost 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population, or about 25 million people, depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and the ministry’s cumbersome and outdated procedures were posing a huge barrier to Afghanistan’s ability to recover economically from a decade of conflict.

Changing a Ministry from the Inside Out

Although the agriculture ministry’s efficiency and management problems were significant, there was a desire for change. In 2008, the Afghan government released the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, a five-year plan to improve the country’s security, governance, and economy. The plan placed particular emphasis on the agricultural sector, calling on the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to better serve this sector.

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, IESC partnered with the ministry to modernize and streamline its internal systems and improve overall management. In an environment as complex as Afghanistan, it was important to inspire change from the inside out, and IESC had a unique approach.

‘Institution building is not an easy task. The only way you can build [an institution] is to be embedded, working together side by side,’ said Noor Seddiq, who returned to Afghanistan after more than 20 years in the United States to serve as the deputy in-country director of the Capacity Building and Change Management Program.

IESC’s locally-led program team assembled a crew of more than 200 ‘change management specialists’ who were embedded in the ministry itself. These highly skilled Afghan nationals worked one-on-one with civil servants at the ministry to provide on-the-job training and mentoring.

The change management specialists were key to creating system-wide change, and it all started with listening. The specialists established a rapport with the staff and heard how their jobs were impacted every day by inefficient processes. The program responded with interventions in the most critical areas, such as financial management, human resources, policy, planning, and program management. The specialists worked closely with staff to provide training and ensure that the changes were fully adopted.

Equipped for the Digital Era

The program focused on leveraging technology that would increase transparency and improve communication between the ministry and the farmers it served. One of the first improvements was replacing the traditional handwritten sign-in ledgers with a thumb print e-attendance system, a single intervention that reaped a number of benefits.

‘It used to take over a week to process a payroll report, but with the electronic attendance system, now we are able to print the report in less than half a day,’ said Mohammed Hotak, director of human resources at the ministry.

This reduction in payroll time, combined with the dramatically reduced time spent standing in line to sign in and out, translates into many hours of additional productivity across the ministry’s more than 1,000 Kabul-based employees. Furthermore, the e-attendance system resulted in a higher level of transparency and accountability for absences.

Over the course of the program, which ran from 2010 to 2014, IESC worked to replace many more similarly outdated processes and systems. A new automated inventory system reduced theft and increased accountability. When the program ended, nearly 10,000 items were entered into the inventory system. The ministry suffered from frequent power outages, and the program installed an automatic generator that keeps the ministry up and running 24 hours a day. And, because the new electronic systems needed good IT infrastructure, the program installed fiber optic cable which increased internet speeds at the ministry by eight times.

Reaching Rural Farmers

The true success of IESC’s work with the ministry will be measured in improved services to farmers. In a country where millions of livelihoods depend on agriculture, an inefficient ministry with unreliable service delivery is simply not an option.

As a result of the changes and improvements made at the ministry in Kabul, many staff positions have been moved to the provincial level, which means more extension agents working directly with farmers in rural regions.

‘In past years, we did not know when to grow,’ said Anjila Azimi, a farmer in the village of Saraye Khowaja. The farmers had been planting in March and never got a good harvest. The program improved services at the district level and helped Azimi access better seeds and greenhouse technology.

‘Our harvest has increased, and we are making progress,’ Azimi said.

This provincial-level support is key to boosting Afghanistan’s agricultural sector. In late 2014, IESC again partnered with the ministry for a follow-on program, the Capacity Building and Change Management II Program. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the current program takes the approach of the first program and expands it out to out to the district-level offices, where better management and increased efficiencies will have an even more direct benefit for farmers.

‘We are privileged to be continuing this collaboration and partnership with the ministry to help more civil servants do their jobs better,’ said Chad Ford, associate vice president for economic growth programs at IESC and director of the new program. ‘More of Afghanistan’s farmers will have access to information and services that meet their needs into the future.’

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Agriculture Sector Strengthens and Afghan Women Advance

One woman’s journey from fearful speaker to confident leader
Najeba Karimi. Photo: USAID CBCMP-II

With a largely agricultural economy, Afghanistan is working to build up its institutions to better support the sector and the nation’s food security. In the process, women are finding new opportunities to develop professional skills and career paths.

When Najeba Karemi accepted a job with the Ministry of Agriculture at a provincial office in Kabul 27 years ago, she knew she was entering a position that once would have been guaranteed to a man. In a country where women do not have much of a voice in society in general, Karemi felt more confident to develop professionally after she became involved in a USAID program in March 2015.


IESC implements the USAID-funded Capacity Building and Change Management II Program in Afghanistan.

Read the rest of this story on the USAID website.

Better Data, Bigger Impact

Cambodian organizations are unlocking the power of data through better data collection and analysis.
Program M&E Manager Leakhena Ith delivering an M&E training.

In the digital era, the old saying ‘knowledge is power’ might better be rendered as ‘information is power.’ But as local NGOs in Cambodia are learning, even that is only partly correct. Accurate information is a first step to driving change. Data collection and data analysis, through effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E), are vital management tools for assessing organizational effectiveness and improving decision-making. For Cambodian NGOs, greater effectiveness and better decision-making lead to smart development interventions that yield greater impact.

The USAID-funded Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) Program is helping local organizations unlock the power of data through a series of M&E training courses designed to teach organizations how to set up M&E systems and utilize the information to improve their operations. The program has trained 54 local organizations on M&E topics to help them refine their data collection and analysis techniques.

Seang Set is responsible for the monthly collection and compilation of information from field staff at the Environmental Protection and Development Organization (EPDO). He observed that ‘most of the field staff do not know what is useful information and how to record information. They spend a lot of time writing narrative reports and I spend hours going through one report to find the needed data.’

“I am now able to quickly get the exact information that I need
. . .[allowing me] to work with the field staff on new strategies to improve implementing the activities.”

‘ Seang Set, Environmental Protection and Development Organization

Over the course of the training series, Set learned about general M&E principles, effective indicators, and how to generate an M&E plan. After the training, CBCLO provided direct assistance to Set’s organization to help them design an M&E data collection system that is tailored to their specific needs.

‘EPDO’s new reporting template is a good method of data collection. The field staff was trained on the new template and how to fill out the form. I can now spend less time on this task and am now able to quickly get the exact information I need,’ Set said. ‘It also allows me to work with the field staff on new strategies to improve implementing the activities.’

Empowered by improved M&E practices, EPDO now has better reports with more relevant data and information from the field. Set can now spend his time on data quality checks, increasing the accuracy and effectiveness of the process. And EPDO’and many other local organizations’can utilize better M&E processes to streamline and enhance their M&E activities and design creative solutions to meet Cambodia’s needs.

The five-year CBCLO Program (2014-2019) aims to strengthen the institutional capacity of local organizations in the areas of financial, administrative, procurement, M&E, and organizational management. The program’s ultimate objective is to improve the ability of local organizations to effectively implement USAID activities. Funded by USAID through the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA), the program is implemented by IESC with sub-partner Kanava International.

Unstable Ground: A Volunteer Helps with China’s Sinkhole Problem (Photo Essay)


August 1, 2014 — IESC is delivering a new volunteer program in China. Experienced industry experts go for short-term consultations to advise Chinese organizations on global best practices and standards. Among our first group of experts, who will soon return to the U.S., is Ted Smith, a sinkhole expert from Florida, who traveled to Shandong and Shanxi Provinces to assess and advise on China’s significant sinkhole problem.

In Zibo, Shandong Province, volunteer sinkhole expert Ted Smith visited four abandoned mining sites
and a well-drilling site used for multiple purposes, including, mapping, monitoring, and eventually
drinking and irrigation water supply. Photo: Andy Sun.
In Taiyuan, Shanxi, Ted Smith gets a fuller understanding of understanding of the extent of the
region’s sinkhole problem. At a land subsiding site near an abandoned mining area, there is a
significant crack on the entire slope of a mountain and the rupture of a roadway along with
several sinkholes. Photo: Andy Sun
China’s sinkhole problem has made some areas uninhabitable and required the resettlement of entire villages.
Ted Smith met with local senior officials at one such resettlement to talk about the programs they have implemented
in the past decade to help those former villagers. Photo: Andy Sun
Ted Smith visits the Shanxi Geological Museum. Photo: Andy Sun


English Language Courses Held in Afghanistan Province

IESC is the primary implementing organization for the Capacity Building and Change Management Program (CBCMP) for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in Afghanistan. The program was designed to help the Ministry modernize and improve its administrative capability so farmers receive better services. Currently in its fourth year, the CBCMP is focusing most of its activities on assistance to Afghanistan provinces.

Jawzjan is one of the eleven DAILs – regional departments of the Ministry ‘ that are receiving assistance from the CBCMP. In March 2013, Gul Amin Fahim, a Senior Provincial Management Specialist, was assigned to the Jawzjan DAIL. In his first few months, he conducted a needs assessment to map training priorities. Gul Amin identified English language courses as the highest priority because the knowledge of English would enable civil servants learn computer skills.

The CBCMP funded a six-month English training course which began in May 2013. Global Partners International, a UK based NGO, taught the course to 21 DAIL civil servants and to the female staff. In order to be selected for the training course, the civil servants had to go through a rigorous application process and demonstrate their commitments. The course was held on DAIL premises to avoid transportation costs. The civil servants attended the training for two hours a day, five days a week. They also had to take a test at the beginning of the course to measure their progress.

‘I want to learn English because it is an international language, which will enhance my communication with DAIL partners and donors. Knowing English also helps me use computers,’ said Jawzjan DAIL Director, who also took the course. Apart from his role in organizing the English language course, Gul Amin has been helping the DAIL management prepare the annual work plan, improve reporting skills, write project proposals and coordinate events.

The CBCMP has also established a stable internet connection in the Jawzjan DAIL and has trained DAIL staff in using computers as well as the internet. The Jawzjan DAIL ICT Manager Mr. Mohammad Nazif Sofizada commented, “CBCMP has trained me on a number of things, and it’s positively impacted my work. I can now make ethernet cable connections, configure different types of wireless routers, troubleshoot all kinds of computer hardware and software problems and manage many other IT issues.”

This success story was made possible through support provided by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Office of Country and Regional Affairs under the terms of Cooperative Agreement No. 58-3148-1-042. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Technology Solution Improves Accountability and Productivity at Afghan Ministry of Agriculture

Thousands Attend International Agricultural Fair Connecting Afghan Farmers to Markets and Technology

USDA’s Capacity Building and Change Management Program, implemented by IESC under the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA), helped Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) organize an agriculture fair and commemorate the ancient Afghan tradition of farmers celebrating ‘Nawroz,’ the onset of Spring.

The Ag Fair provided exposure for farmers to the general public, businesses and investors from within Afghanistan and overseas, who were encouraged to participate.  It served as a vehicle to connect farmers with new markets and technology by bringing them together with potential foreign and domestic investors and buyers. Following six prior donor-assisted Ag Fairs in Kabul, this seventh Ag Fair held in March 2012 was the first that MAIL organized on its own.

CBCMP Change Management Specialists from the Private Sector, Communications, and Administration Directorates led organization of the event and systematized event planning so that MAIL will be able manage an upcoming international fair in September 2012 as host to Indian Chambers of Commerce.  This capacity building will be a crucial step for linking Afghanistan with India as a source of technology for Afghan farmers as well as a potential market for Afghan agricultural products.

Highlights of the event included

  • 64,000 attendees
  • 174 booths showcasing a range of products and services
  • 480 farmers from 14 districts of Kabul attended and participated in a Farmers Parade
  • Farmer leaders recognized and provided a MAIL package of improved seeds and gardening kit
  • 10 Afghan Cabinet members attended.

At the event, the Afghan Ministers of Agriculture and Finance signed agreements for the distribution of $14 million in certified wheat seed, a $6 million micro-credit program for Bamiyan, $17 million for a district (DAIL) budgeting program, and a loan agreement between MAIL and two farm service centers in Helmand and Laghman provinces.