Babri Bibi’s poultry farm in Nad-e-Ali, Helmand. © UNODC.
Helmand, Afghanistan, 17 April 2023 — The odds were stacked against Babri Bibi.
She was divorced, had three children, and owned no land – all of which made earning a living difficult in her small, conservative village in the Nad-e-Ali district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The recent soaring food prices didn’t help, nor did the social exclusion for being divorced or the cultural norms discouraging women’s participation in the public sphere.
“As a divorced woman, I am the only breadwinner for my children, and my economic situation has been getting worse for a long time,” Babri Bibi shared. “There was not even a single piece of bread in my home.”
In the past, some in Babri Bibi’s position may have resorted to joining the opium poppy production and trade. According to a recent research brief from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 32 per cent in 2022, while the income made by farmers from opium sales more than tripled between 2021 and 2022.
In order to provide a culturally sensitive alternative to joining the opium business, UNODC introduced an Alternative Development Programme in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Alternative development initiatives seek to provide sustainable livelihoods to communities that cultivate illicit drug crops because they are unable to obtain sufficient income from legal activities due to conflict or lack of markets, basic infrastructure, or land.
Many women in rural areas of Afghanistan have traditionally been involved with poultry farming and livestock keeping, with basic knowledge of how to feed and breed chickens.
Because the chicken coop is often constructed within the boundaries of the house, poultry farming doesn’t necessarily require extra land, removing a major restriction for women farmers.
Implemented by the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR), the programme helped her establish a small backyard poultry farm and provided Babri Bibi with 20 pullets (i.e., young hens) and other necessary farm management tools, medicine, and training on managing a backyard poultry farm.
“My chickens now lay 15 eggs per day, which makes it possible for my children to have nutritious food,” Babri Bibi said. “I sell about 100 eggs per week at 10 afghanis (AFN) each and make an income of 1,000 AFN. I use my income to buy food and other much needed items, such as pens and notebooks for my children.”
Since January 2022, with assistance from the Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan (STFA), UNODC has supported more than 7,924 families in Helmand and Kandahar provinces who are vulnerable to engaging in opium poppy production and trade.
Babri Bibi’s transformation from a woman facing social exclusion to one celebrated as a successful female entrepreneur was evident in her newfound confidence.
“Once all the hens start to lay eggs, I expect to increase my income,” she said. “I plan to continue raising poultry and I want to grow the business in the future.
I encourage other women in my village to begin their own poultry farms, too.”