Nutrition & Education International (NEI) started working in Afghanistan since 2003 and has committed another 10 years to the eradication of malnutrition in Afghanistan through establishing a self-sustainable soybean industry.
This long-term commitment by NEI raises a couple of questions, “Why Afghanistan? And, why commit another 10 years?” The answers to these questions can be revealed in the following figures: Out of 29 million inhabitants, more than a third of all Afghans live below the national poverty line, unable to meet their basic needs and dietary requirement. Poverty with its multiple aspects is the key factor infringing on food security and the fundamental rights of the Afghan people to have the “physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally accepted food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (1996 World Food Summit).
Recent NRVA results indicate that 7.6 million people or 30% of the population are food-insecure (i.e. consume less than 2,100 kilo calories per person per day) of which 27% or 2.1 million people consume less than 1,500 kilo calories per person per day and are considered severely food insecure. Five million Afghans, with over 20% comprising children under the age of five, consume inadequate amounts of both protein and calories.
Recent UNICEF and Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health data show that one in 5 children die before the age of five, One in 14 infants do not live to the age of one, One in 32 women do not survive childbirth and 54% of the population is chronically malnourished.
The primary cause of malnutrition is protein deficiency. We need to step up immediately. In order to save these lives in Afghanistan, we need to supply protein nutrients.
How we can supply protein?
In Afghanistan food availability is closely linked to wheat (and other cereal) production. Afghanistan is a cereal deficit country even in years of good harvests. Agricultural production, particularly cereal output, is highly dependent on and sensitive to weather conditions. Accounting for 70% of total cereal consumption, wheat is both the major crop and staple. Wheat flour contributes 57% to the total caloric content of the average bundle of food items of the relatively poor. Other important cereal crops are rice, maize and barley.
The evidence shows that lack of food diversity and dependency of Afghan people to the cereal crops is one of the reasons for food insecurity. To bring back the food security in Afghanistan it needs to import a significant amount of other food items such as poultry meat, eggs, dairy products, and other processed foods, of which commercial supplies are reaching mainly urban markets and at high prices.
Supplying the protein this way is costly and not sustainable. So, how can farmers gain access to protein in a sustainable way and at low cost? The answer is soybean cultivation.
Because of soybeans, children suffering from acute malnutrition started gaining fat in their cheeks.
Malnutrition is a key factor that causes the high infant and maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan. Malnutrition is synonymous with protein deficiency. Soybeans are a rich source of protein containing nine essential amino acids. Soybeans are not only ideal for human nutrition but also cost effective as a farming product.
Since NEI first introduced soybeans to Afghanistan, we have made three key observations proving that malnutrition can be eradicated:
- Soybeans can grow well in Afghanistan. Afghan climate and soil are ideal for soybeans to grow and flourish.
- Afghans like the taste of soy. Soy and soy products can be integrated into their daily diet.
- Afghans who consumed soy became healthier. Soy foods can be an essential component to the health of the Afghan people.
How NEI can help afghan Farmer?
NEI is now working with Afghan farmers in twenty-one provinces where they are now growing soybeans. Over 10,000 Afghan farmers were trained in soybean cultivation in 21 provinces and 2,000MT soybeans were produced by the trained farmers.
We hope to eradicate the malnutrition in Afghanistan. Now, Afghan women are making soy naan by adding 10% soy flour to the traditional naan recipe. Soy naan doubles the protein absorption rate.
Our journey has been tremendous since we first introduced soybean in 2003. The people of Afghanistan are incredibly receptive to this crop. NEI currently plants soybeans in all 21 provinces. Together with these Afghan farmers, we have proven three facts:
- Soybeans can grow in Afghanistan.
- The Afghan people enjoy soybeans and will integrate soybeans into their normal diet.
- Malnourished women and children are regaining health through the consumption of soy foods.
NEI will be with Afghan People
NEI has committed 10 more years to work with afghan people and stand beside them. NEI’s Vision in Afghanistan is to eradicate protein-energy malnutrition, especially among women and children.
NEI’s mission is to establish a self-sustainable soybean industry in Afghanistan through developing a soybean full value chain, including seed multiplication, soybean cultivation, soybean processing, and soy market development.
The general objective of NEI’s humanitarian distribution program in Afghanistan is to assist poor families suffering from protein-energy malnutrition. NEI distributes soy products to women and children, excluding infants and children under three (3) years of age, to supplement their diets with a complete protein source and help them prevent protein-energy malnutrition.
The objective of NEI in Afghanistan is to assist poor families suffering from protein-energy malnutrition through promoting self-sustainable soy value chain development.
NEI has committed another 10 years to Afghanistan to produce 300,000 metric tons of soybeans to provide an economical source of complete protein.
In addition, NEI aims to promote the health and nutrition status of the Afghan population through distributing soy products to women and children (excluding infants and children under three (3) years of age aimed at supplementing their diet with a complete protein source. NEI would like to contribute to preventing protein-energy malnutrition this way.
NEI set out to help a country that was unable to resolve the most basic human needs.
NEI stepped forward to help women and children dying from malnutrition.
During the first years, NEI’s work was supported by generous donations from private citizens in the United States, Korea and Canada. As the soy industry development program was increasingly accepted by Afghan farmers, NEI reached out to other donor nations. First, the Japanese Government funded the program in 2008, and then NEI (in partnership with World Food Program) started receiving funds in 2012 by the Canadian Government, and currently, the Republic of Korea. .
Recognizing that malnutrition is linked with protein deficiency, NEI identified soybeans as the quickest solution to the most basic health concern for Afghanistan women and children. In 2004, soybean cultivation took place in a land that had never heard of the golden protein-filled bean. The government and the people of Afghanistan fully support NEI’s mission to bring the winds of change.