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Darulaman Women’s Cooperative Farm: trust, rejuvenation, hard work, and regrowth

August 4, 2016

Gravel crunches under the leather soles of my red shoes. I can smell hints of mint mingled with the gentle scent of rose petals. As I move along the gravel pathway, small groups of finches take flight, only to alight again in the next plot. Butterflies glide and dance in the breeze, oblivious and undisturbed by my presence. Like ripples in an ocean when the sun sets, ponds of marigolds cast their orange glow around the varying verdant crops: cabbage, broccoli, tomato, beans, cucumber, onions, garlic, corn, bitter gourd. It changes with each couple of steps. I look up and see parliament’s shiny dome, to the right the haunting, blown-out Darulaman Palace. Off to the side are tangles of mulberry bushes, and further around to the left a larger field with some small plots being worked, but largely just a wide expanse of pale compacted soil, the kind of image most Americans bring to mind when they think of Afghanistan. The kind of view that evokes thirst.

My reverie ends abruptly as Lailuma continues to explain how she planted the beans using a small scale hand-propelled seeder. She explains how she and the other female cooperative members also decided to plant sweet peppers along a diagonal in the center to help dissuade enterprising pests from attacking their beans. I ask to take her picture, she raises the lower part of her hijab to leave only her eyes visible, her straw hat still settled comfortably over top of her scarf. As soon as the picture is snapped she is talking again, leaving me completely in her dust as my Dari is abysmal. Next to the beans is a plot of corn. I ask her if they planted the three sisters there. She laughs, grabs my hand, explains that “It is the two sisters only”. Beans and Corn. She and the other women have continued to experiment, pushing the knowledge of agroecology and organic agriculture they learned through their farmer field school trainings over the past years and blending it with their observations of their piece of the Darulaman Farm. At precisely this moment, as if it were scripted, a younger woman approaches. Lailuma’s open and smiling face beams even brighter. She gives a hearty laugh as she starts rapidly chatting again. In the woman’s hands are used IV bags with the lines still attached. Her daughter works in a hospital and she brings the used IV bags home for her mother and the other women to use on the farm. They are cucumber specific drip irrigators that deliver smaller doses of water to the plants.

Lailuma bustles off and I follow. We stop in front of an area designed to showcase how organic agriculture can be adapted to urban environments. Out of a small raised bed skirted by cement blocks and brick vine cucumbers, with, sure enough, IV drip lines running straight to their root zones! The green patients seem to be thriving. Lailuma excitedly shows me how they devised a splitter to deliver water from 1 IV bag to two plants uses a small piece of hollow stock, maybe from corn, or sorghum. She is laughing the entire time, as am I, amused by the juxtaposition of IV bags at a farm. Rehydrating cucumbers. Our tour of the farm continues. Not all is sun-shine, birds, butterflies, and IV bags. Wild dogs from the open fields next door wreak havoc on the greenhouse nightly. The saffron plot has been descended upon by rats the size of house cats. Dodder is present in the fringes of the farm and is a weed that the women vigilantly and constantly fight. Mites threatened the greenhouse crop, but with daily application of organic garlic and hot pepper spray designed to deter them, they were removed but not before damaging the vines. New leaves are growing, and the plants seem to be recovering well. No IVs are in sight here, but the small, neat piles of compost around the base of each vine and the gentle way Lailuma’s fingers help new tendrils thread into the trellis string speak volumes about the attention and management the plants on the farm receive.

Today’s problems seem small and solvable compared to the struggles the Darulaman farm has faced in the past and faces on other days. Threats from the Home Economics Department to kick the women off, many of whom are widowed, occur frequently. This is despite the fact that the HED is supposed to be working with and supporting these women in doing exactly what they are doing now: running a productive, profitable farm to provide themselves and their families with healthy food and income. Transitioning from a group of farmer field school leaders who were learning together and from one another and into a cooperative group was as rocky as the soil in the vacant lot. Lailuma and the other women have so far been able to learn to trust one another, to decide how to divide labor responsibilities, to ensure that productivity is good enough to be profitable, to overcome arguments like who works which days and how members are compensated, to come to an agreement over what happens when someone falls ill, and to make the million other small but necessary decisions that keep groups functioning. This growth on the part of the individual women is remarkable given the context and history within which it has occurred.

We stop at the sales stall as we leave. I ask how much the honey is, “500 AFS” replies Lailuma without skipping a beat. I slip a blue note from my wallet, place the jar full of creamy, soft yellow honey in my bag. Sophia asks after the goats. How much milk they are producing each day, how they are doing? “1 liter between the two of them” is they reply. We take off as the heat of the noon sun drives the women to seek shade under the grape trellis near the stall. As we drive away the sea of green and golden orange breaks abruptly into the dusty leaves of mulberry trees. Our car navigates around a corner through the barricades to enter the Livestock department buildings. I wonder what part of this story I can tell to keep this small farm, a pond of green and golden hope, from being swallowed into a department that will leave it to languish and fade back to the fatigue-colored khaki concrete soil of the vacant lot. So here I sit, writing.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2016 09:00

    A well-written account of what you are seeing being accomplished in Afghanistan. I’m going to concentrate on the positive and love the genius of these women. These words should be part of the qualitative accounting of what you are doing there.

    Good job,
    Love, Mom

    Like

  2. Kim permalink*
    August 5, 2016 16:14

    Thanks, Mom! That means a lot coming from you!

    Like

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