The fear of winter

Mohammad Sharif and his family used to be fearful of the three months of cold and severe winter in the Afghan mountains where they live. But with knowledge about effective methods for vegetable cultivation gained from Mission East, the family can now enjoy a balanced diet – also during winter.

The village is located in the barren mountains of the Badakhshan Province in northern Afghanistan. Here Mohammad Sharif lives with his family. The 54-year-old father is a tenant farmer, and until recently the 18-member family lived off the meagre amount of wheat he and his brother could cultivate on a small plot of land. In addition, they earned a little through daily wage labour. But the wage was low and the land gave only a small yield, of which they had to pay half to the landowner. The two brothers were thus not able to provide enough food to feed the family properly.

Winter means hunger

Most of the time, the family was eating only bread, soup and tea. Winters were the worst. Because of the immense snowfall in the barren mountains it was impossible to grow anything during the three months of winter.

Mohammad Sharif explains: “Every winter my brother and I had to borrow money from neighbours and relatives in order to feed our family. But the following summer we had to pay it back with high interest.” The brothers could never keep enough of the harvest to the next winter and had to borrow money and food again.

Low-cost greenhouse

One day Mission East started up a project to improve food security in Mohammad Sharif’s village. His family was assessed to be in particular great need and they were chosen to participate in a greenhouse project. Mohammad Sharif was sceptical at first. He did not believe that vegetables could be grown in greenhouses during the harsh Afghan winters. But after a two-day workshop where six demonstration greenhouses were built, he was impressed, and he decided to build his own greenhouse. With the technical help of Mission East staff, he and his brother together constructed a low cost and functional greenhouse.

Vegetables for the children

Mission East gave them vegetable seeds and gardening tools. Then they prepared the land and planted all the seeds in the greenhouse in accordance with the training they had received. More than 90 percent of the plants germinated and the following January the family started harvesting. By March they had harvested more than 50 kg of onion, green chili pepper, watercress and coriander. The vegetables were used in the family’s daily meals, and the more balanced diet improved their nutrition considerably.

20 other families built greenhouses

Mohammad Sharif is happy that his family no longer has to starve through winter. “This is the first time in my life I am producing vegetables, which I never thought I could grow in the long and harsh Afghan winter,” he says. He can even share some of the vegetables to neighbours and relatives and has saved seeds for next winter’s cultivation. Mohammad Sharif has plans to build more greenhouses and to sell the surplus vegetables on the local market to earn an extra income for himself and his family. “At least 20 households have already received the same benefits as me and more than 50 households are ready to establish greenhouses next winter. We hope there will no longer be a food gap in winter in this village,” he says.

Sharifs low cost greenhouse

  • The greenhouse build by Sharif and his brother was 6 x 3 metres in size and made from used wooden beams and white plastic sheets.
  • The total cost of this greenhouse came to only 1,100 Afs (approximately 14 EUR)
  • They started planting in early November and started harvesting in January.
  • After four months of cultivation the two brothers had harvested 25 kg of onion, 10 kg of pepper, 10 kg of watercress and 5 kg of coriander in total from the greenhouse.
  • The family consists of 18 members.