In 2008, much of Afghanistan was recovering from years of drought, crop failure and lost income. Many ways to address the problem had been tried with minimal success. Seeking better outcomes, an agricultural recovery and livelihood support program was designed with community input. Cultural attitudes about work, supporting a family, social and economic networks, agricultural knowledge and preferences, and personal dignity were explored with male and female farmers to shape a new approach.
Struggling farmers were fiercely proud and self-sufficient, and indicated the local culture viewed accepting charity as shameful, but external assistance was acceptable if a rural producer’s dignity remained intact. This insight resulted in the design of an agricultural voucher program that required a 15 percent co-pay from each beneficiary, implying ownership and retaining self-worth. The program made use of existing community-based decision-making structures, which were empowered to set eligibility criteria and award vouchers based on applications made by farmers. Local suppliers were used to redeem vouchers, supporting local markets and long-standing socio-economic networks and systems of economic relations. This process gave local people the power to assess the situation, determine a course of action, and access the resources necessary to create change.
Because farmers in the community also took pride in their agricultural knowledge and decision-making ability, vouchers were allowed to be used for any agricultural purpose a farmer determined. Recipients could even pool vouchers to invest in larger farm equipment, such as mini-tractors, and these purchases could be shared by multiple families. Choice, and the ability for participants to determine their own needs, was respected. This also applied to farmer training on drought-resistant agriculture, as farmers were not required to take part in educational programs to receive a voucher, but were given the choice to participate or not.
The success of programs such as these provides an example for improving post-disaster interventions. If we understand how a local community evaluates its own risk, and what things people prioritize for their recovery, we can design more successful relief programs. Approaches that privilege local knowledge, culture, and values will succeed at much higher rates than the models of old, because they embody respect, dignity, participation, partnership, and local ownership.