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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population, or about 25 million people, depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and the ministry’s cumbersome and outdated procedures were posing a huge barrier to Afghanistan’s ability to recover economically from a decade of conflict.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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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.