Seeds to Grow

By Zach Warren, Kabul Field Officer for International Relief and Development

“Give us seed, and we can grow it. Anything - gandum, rumi, bodrang, bomya, kachalu, zardak, pista,” Ramullah said. He smiled at me, showing his three multicolored front teeth. “Wheat, tomato, cucumber, okra, potato, carrot, pistachio tree – give us good seeds and we can make crops.”

I met Ramullah on a snowy day last December at a wheat seed and fertilizer distribution.
Ramullah is the head of the farmer’s cooperative in the remote village of Sayed in Sar-e-Pul province, northern Afghanistan. When there’s a dispute between farmers, they go to him. When there are questions about irrigation techniques, they go to him. Several years ago, he led a poppy eradication movement in his community. Now they are poppy-free, but they need alternative crops.

At age 40, with two girls and three boys of his own, Ramullah’s responsibility is to look after the other farmers in his village. His authority is rooted in the respect he’s earned from other farmers at the grassroots level.

I meet dozens like Ramullah through my work with International Relief & Development (IRD), a nongovernmental organization that specializes in regions with political and social challenges. IRD works with 101 farmer cooperative heads, along with Afghan government partners, to distribute wheat seed and fertilizer to 250,000 vulnerable farmers in drought-affected northern and western provinces. Often these local leaders—including Ramullah—refuse to take a package of wheat and fertilizer for themselves, offering it instead to other farmers in their community, even when the local leader qualifies to receive it.

Such stories of generosity and resiliency have kept me coming back to work with Afghans every year since 2005. True, aid can bring out the best and the worst in people. When the need is great and resources are scarce, conflicts can arise. But after generations of war, Afghans want peace and a better life. Farmers want to grow sustainable crops, including staple crops like wheat. Parents want to send their children to school again, safely and affordably. Families want accessible health care.

I asked Ramullah why he farms, what compels him. He bent down and scooped up a handful of dirt. “This land,” he says in Dari, slowly letting the dirt slide out of his fingers, “was our fathers, is ours, and will be our children’s. Your seeds give us life.”

International Relief & Development (IRD)

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