Global Partnership for Afghanistan: Building sustainable rural livelihoods to alleviate poverty in a country in conflict

Global Partnership for Afghanistan: Building sustainable rural livelihoods to alleviate poverty in a country in conflict

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

By working with local leaders and communities, GPFA is showing how sustainable farm businesses can be developed, incomes increased and a devastated environment restored even in remote, conflict ridden regions; and that in even the most conservative cultures, women can be full participating partners in these businesses.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. GPFA is working to change this picture by giving Afghan men and women the tools and training they need to launch and sustain their own farm businesses and by addressing the urgent infrastructure needs of the agricultural sector. Our goal is to increase incomes, build local economies, bring women into the economy, set an example for other NGOs working in conflict zones, and improve stability in Afghanistan.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Through the 1970’s, Afghanistan was hailed as the “Orchard of Central Asia,” with abundant harvests of high-quality fruit and nuts that provided its major source of export income. But by 2002, after thirty years of war, the countryside was devastated and just two percent of Afghanistan was forested. Yet still, about 80% live in rural areas and depend upon farming to meet their basic needs. Afghanistan remains desperately poor. More than half the estimated population of 30 million lives below the poverty line and most live on $2 a day. Life expectancy averages 45 years. 70% of the country is under 25. Without the prospect of jobs and liveable incomes, many could turn to crime or become easy prey for the Taliban. Foreign aid, which makes up the bulk of Afghanistan’s GDP, rarely trickles out of the city to the countryside. Infrastructure is largely non-existent outside the larger cities. Only 23% have access to clean drinking water. Fewer than 14% have access to electricity. While slowly improving, the status of women in Afghanistan remains dismal. The average Afghan woman has a 1 in 11 chance of dying in childbirth. Violence against women is endemic. An estimated 1 million women are widowed. Unable to work outside the home, they are reduced to begging for their families to survive. However there are several positive trends that will only accelerate if development dollars are spent wisely. School attendance is up dramatically from 900,000 pre-2001 to 7 million. Close to 90% of the children have been vaccinated for polio. GDP is growing at an estimated 12%. And attitudes about women participating in civic life are slowly improving. GPFA has seen some of these positive changes firsthand as the farmers with whom we work embrace their new lives as entrepreneurs and open themselves to new possibilities they could never before imagine.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Afghanistan faces many challenges: among them widespread illiteracy, a culture wary of change, endemic corruption, and an active insurgency that limits where NGOs can operate. GPFA’s challenge was to find a model that can achieve sustainable progress given these conditions. Our solution is an approach based on developing deep community relationships. Top-down large-scale projects are largely ineffective in Afghanistan. It is much more effective first to engage a community in a small, short-term project that shows immediate impact. Once farmers see benefits from for example improving their irrigation they are eager to participate in longer, more extensive projects. After a project is completed we continue to provide follow up and assistance both to maintain the relationship and ensure a sustainable outcome. The success of our model depends on having an all Afghan staff. They understand cultural nuances, are trusted by local elders and wary farmers, are able to work in even the most unstable areas without attracting attention, and are experienced in teaching a largely illiterate rural population. Since our projects are culturally appropriate, we have convinced village leaders to allow women to participate. We have 40 women professionals on staff who are sensitive to what is acceptable – establishing a nursery within home grounds – and they show both men and women by example that there can be a broader role for women in the Afghan economy.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

GPFA has four primary areas of focus: 1) developing farm enterprises (training and supplies for new entrepreneurs to launch and sustain farm businesses such as timber woodlots, orchards, vineyards, nurseries, vegetable gardens, beekeeping, and poultry-raising); 2) building infrastructure (helping farmers and communities to better manage their natural resources, especially water); 3) creating support systems for the agriculture sector (establishing cooperative organizations that encourage innovation and pooling of knowledge, develop new market opportunities, and improve returns on investments while offering a source of support and motivation); 4) strengthening institutions (supporting the agriculture programs of local universities, partnering with local governments to improve service provision). All of our activities are designed to be sustainable and managed by Afghans. Thus, knowledge transfer and training underlie everything we do. Our Tree House Training Center in Guldara, for example, teaches dozens of men and women every month new technical and business skills and how, in turn, to train others. Our emphasis on training also extends to our 150-strong staff, which is comprised entirely of Afghans with the exception of our Kabul-based American Executive Director. Many staff members are young and just launching their careers. GPFA is grooming them to become the leaders of Afghanistan’s agricultural sector. Based in Kabul with a small support office in New York, we have 9 regional and provincial offices and have worked in 12 provinces. We have enabled some 21,000 men and women in 600 villages to improve their families' lives not just financially, but by instilling pride of ownership. Through our resource work and district center collaborations, 200,000 more now have improved access to water and better functioning government agricultural services.
About You
Global Partnership for Afghanistan
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Global Partnership for Afghanistan

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

GPFA co-founder Dana Freyer's deep ties to Afghanistan were born when she worked for the Afghanistan Ambassador to the UN in the 1960s and cemented in the 1970s when she and her husband Bruce traveled the entire country. 30 years later, after the Taliban had been routed and Afghanistan lay in shambles, Dana, now a retired lawyer, Bruce, a rabbi and businessman, and two Afghan American friends, NYU Economics Professor Ishaq (Ned) Nadiri and Mohammad Anwarzai, joined together to help rebuild the country.

Determined to address the greatest unmet need, they traveled to Afghanistan and over countless cups of tea talked with farmers and community elders to better understand how to help. The universal answer was trees and income: they wanted help to re-establish the orchards, vineyards, and timber woodlots that had sustained them for generations.

GPFA officially launched operations in 2004 with a focus on providing farmers with fruit tree saplings and fast-growing poplar cuttings that would yield them significant income after one year and much greater profit later when sold as timber. As the program grew, GPFA expanded its focus beyond trees to include vegetables, nurseries, and income enhancers such as solar dryers. We built a robust training program, have expanded into natural resource management, and opened markets, all of which increase jobs and income and improve lives.

Since their initial trip, Dana, Bruce and Ned have returned to the country numerous times to meet with the many farmers whose lives they have touched.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

GPFA is not so much changing a system as putting one in place. By helping local governments to provide better agricultural services to farmers, improving secondary and university agricultural education, enhancing water supplies, improving natural resource management, and advising national agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, we are strengthening the institutions and infrastructure that support the agricultural sector.

At the individual level, GPFA’s impact is reflected in both our numbers and in the social changes we have helped inspire, such as a growing acceptance of women’s enterprise ownership and greater accountability on the part of local governments to deliver agricultural services. We have enabled more than 21,000 farmers (6,600 of whom are women) in 600 villages across 12 provinces to start farm-based enterprises. We have improved the incomes, and likely the nutrition and education of an additional 168,000 people (based on the average family size of 9). The lives of an additional 60,000 people have been improved by our programs in irrigation, resource management and watershed rehabilitation which have increased access to water, reduced water waste, and expanded the amount of arable land. Many of our farm families have seen their annual incomes almost triple: depending on the province, a yearly income from small woodlots can range from $1,200 to $2,400. Owners can expect an additional profit of $30,000 to $40,000 when they sell their poplar trees as timber for construction.

Responsibility for monitoring and evaluation lies with GPFA’s Kabul-based Project Support Unit. To support this, as well as to help us to develop broader, more global indicators, we have a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist based in New York

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We plan to increase in scale and have an impact farther up the value chain. Existing activities that will expand include adding value to farm output through improved access to markets; improving crop storage; introducing methods for processing, preserving and drying crops; improving water management; building the capacity of institutions that support the agriculture sector; and expanding the training and education of farmers, agriculture students and professionals to other provinces.

New activities include providing access to useful, cost-efficient energy; enhancing farmer access to credit and financing; and using cell phone technology to expand farmer access to training and market information.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

While it builds its individual and foundation donor base in the U.S. and abroad, GPFA has depended on institutional supporters such as the European Union and various U.S. government agencies for the majority of its income. This presents several problems. Given the reduction in coalition forces beginning this summer, government funding for economic development will likely be greatly reduced over the next three years. The second is that the institutional funds we do receive are tightly restricted, leaving a gap in our operating funds. Lastly, we are experiencing limited success raising large grants from individuals and foundations – many are skeptical that progress is possible in Afghanistan - and while we are building our base of supporters it will take time to convert them into major donors.
To address the issue of sustainability, GPFA has launched a planning process to develop a strategic and sustainability plan. In addition to assessing our programmatic and organizational infrastructure needs, the process will result in the creation of a for-profit arm of GPFA as well as identify other means of revenue generation to support the operations of the non-profit organization. The businesses of this for-profit enterprise would apply appropriate small-scale technology to address infrastructure needs from the bottom-up, as opposed to the top-down approach of large international organizations, which have gained little traction. We hope this model can be replicated by other non-profits working in Afghanistan or other areas in conflict and that are dependent on foreign aid.

Tell us about your partnerships

Given our track record of effectiveness, accountability and transparency, GPFA has a range of partners both in Afghanistan and in the U.S. One or our first partners was Cornell University, with which we had a 2 year project to help farmers plant poplar woodlots that can be harvested for timber. We now work with universities in Afghanistan (Albironi and Paktya most extensively) to help develop their agriculture departments, improve curricula, and build model farms and demonstrations for hands-on learning.

We also work extensively with the Afghan and local governments and other institutions. At the village level we work with numerous secondary schools to build demonstration farms and improve curricula and teaching methods. At the district level we are partnering with local government centers to improve the agricultural services that they supply to the surrounding villages. At the provincial level we work with several Offices of Women’s Affairs on projects that will bring more women into the agricultural sector. At the national level we are partnering with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) on improving the training of their agriculture specialists.

Also in-country, we are teaming with Roshan, the Afghan telecommunications company, on a project to use cell phone technology both to link farmers in remote areas with GPFA staff and other experts and enable them to track market prices. We work with the U.S. NGO Roots of Peace to establish orchards in southern and eastern Afghanistan, as well as MercyCorps and the French NGO Madera on several projects.

Lastly, we are a strong implementing partner for institutional funders. We coordinate and work closely with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. military, the World Bank, and European Union, among others.

Explain your selections

GPFA’s FY2010 annual budget of $3.5 million will increase to a projected $5 million
in 2011. We have received restricted funds from the U.S. State Department, USAID (as a sub-grantee), Department of Defense Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), European Commission, GIZ (the German development fund), the World Bank and the Afghan government. We also receive funding from the NGO Roots of Peace for a project in which we are a partner. In addition to this restricted funding we anticipate raising $786,000 in operating support including $346,000 from individuals, family and friends, $180,000 from our Board of Directors, $105,000 from foundations, $80,000 from our annual fall gala, and $75,000 in corporate donations. We also receive substantial in-kind support from the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.

As noted earlier, GPFA hopes to broaden our base of support behind institutional funders to include more private grants from individuals, foundations and corporations.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

GPFA has kept staff size lean so we can devote more money to program. Our executive director has therefore been responsible for a range of projects. To grow and strengthen GPFA, we need to add additional staff to support our executive director to provide him with more time to manage our expansion.

We seek to fill three new positions in the near-term to ensure that we can manage growth effectively and make the most impact. More positions will be identified through the strategic planning process described earlier.

We plan to hire a business development advisor who will work on identifying the barriers farmers face in getting their products to market, devising culturally appropriate solutions to address these barriers, and investigate ways to increase our impact up the value chain. He/she will also explore the use of technology to help farmers find the best markets and highest prices for their products.

We will also hire a Director of Finance who will oversee our financial systems, monitor cash flow and contract and grant compliance and help develop and implement a plan for funding sustainability, and a Chief Operating Officer who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the organization.

Lastly, we plan to invest more in monitoring and evaluation to ensure that our programs are effective and to determine areas of weakness that we need to strengthen. We have hired a U.S.-based M&E specialist who will be traveling to Afghanistan to refine our monitoring and evaluation procedures and work with field staff to put these systems into place.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of skills/training


Restrictive cultural norms


Other (Specify Below)

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

GPFA’s demonstration-based program addresses both widespread lack of skills and technical knowledge with the added challenge of working with a largely illiterate population.

Regarding security, our approach is to start with small-scale projects that earn trust. Once the community sees how our work can benefit them, they are more likely to stand up to insurgents. We also work in village clusters so they can support each other in confronting both criminals and insurgents.

Lastly, cultural norms impede our focus on increasing women’s incomes. GPFA’s model of getting buy-in from village elders, developing projects that are home-based and therefore more culturally accepted, and using female trainers and experts help us to work around these restrictions.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Leveraged technology

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Our expansion into additional provinces will launch with Bamiyan later this summer.

To ensure the long-term sustainability for our farmers we plan to hire a business development expert to deepen our impact up the value chain, for example helping farmers find financing.

Lastly, in partnership with Roshan, we will soon launch 3 projects that leverage technology. The first will use simple smart phones that are easily navigated by illiterate people to help GPFA staff plan, advise and follow up with farmers, particularly in remote and insecure regions. In the second project, farmers will be able to access current market prices for their products via cell phone. We will also build 4 e-learning centers in 3 provinces to provide villagers with access to the internet.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

GPFA’s early growth resulted from an collaboration with Cornell to help farmers plant poplar woodlots that could later be harvested for timber. This partnership provided us with an opportunity to learn to manage major projects and hone our business development model.

Our new partnership with the French NGO Madera to support the fruit tree nursery industry in 9 provinces, will help us deepen our work in these regions.

Our collaboration with Provincial Reconstruction Teams and Agriculture Development Teams is enabling us to expand our work on watershed restoration and refine our strategies for organizing villagers to participate in these projects.

We will be partnering with Roshan, a leading Afghan communications company, on introducing technology into our programs.