Women Extension Agents Improve Milk Yields in Afghanistan

Originally published on September 8, 2014.

After more than a quarter century of conflict, the lives of Afghans have been disrupted to the point that many farming techniques and traditional knowledge has failed to pass on to new generations. Women and children, who are responsible for caring for dairy cows and milking them each day, are also afforded few opportunities to talk with and learn from other women that perform similar farming duties.

In 2004, Land O’Lakes International Development launched the Dairy Industry Revitalization Program (DIRPA) and decided to adopt a unique approach to assisting dairy farmers in Afghanistan. Land O’Lakes decided it would hire only women extension agents who could work directly with other women who cared for dairy cows in Kunduz and Parwan provinces. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), DIRPA found resistance to this approach from elders in the communities where it operated, and it took persistence on the part of the agents to convince women farmers to work with them.

An extension agent takes measurements of a cow.
In order to more effectively reach the program’s targets, DIRPA also trained female extensions agents in improved animal husbandry and good milking practices, as they also carry the milk to collection centers. After three months, the agents gradually developed a list of farmers to work with, and the communities soon welcomed their services. Milk yields rose rapidly and cow mortality rates dropped dramatically to 0.1 percent in both provinces. Women extension agents were also welcomed when they toured around to different farmsteads — something that had not always happened before the program. Many families that initially declined to work with them soon requested appointments after hearing success stories from neighbors.

Their success, said Mostari, one of the agents, started with the fact that “we speak the language and we are not outsiders. We do not argue with them. We show them new things, and we give them upbeat and positive support when we see that they are doing them [well].” Another agent, Nazici, talked about the difference the program has made for families. “We start with simple things such as teaching them to wash their hands before milking. It has a large impact on the health of both the cows and the families who drink milk.” By learning to handle milk hygienically, farmers learn that the milk they sell or provide for their families is now safer to consume.

From 2004-07, DIRPA built three dairy processing plants in Afghanistan to guarantee markets for locally produced milk. Land O’Lakes trained farmers to produce high quality raw milk for these plants, while helping processors penetrate and develop consumer markets.