Sustainable and productive management of degraded watersheds in Kahmard district

2009 Winner

Helvetas was founded in 1955 as the first private organization for development co-operation in Switzerland. Helvetas is a denominationally and politically independent association, supported by approximately 43’000 members, 40’000 sponsors and 15 regional groups.


The project goal is to contribute to improved livelihoods of poor rural population in Kahmard district (Afghanistan) by reducing flood damages and increasing long-term land productivity through holistic watershed management.

Project Description

Helvetas realized that the degradation in the watersheds responsible for the floods which threaten houses, agricultural land and infrastructure in the villages of Kahmard district must be reduced. Only improved management of the areas where runoff and erosion originate can solve the problem of floods in the long term; otherwise, the reservoirs created by the planned dams will get silted rapidly and land degradation will continue. Furthermore, improved management may regain the productivity potential of rapidly degrading and already degraded land in the water-sheds, thereby contributing to solve other major problems that concern the communities in Kahmard district. In view of predicted climatic changes (higher probability of heavy precipitation events and of prolonged dry spells), improved watershed management is all the more important to reduce the occurrence of floods on the one hand and to ensure more stable base flows on the other. Considering this, Helvetas with support from ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) is in the process of launching a community-based watershed management project focusing on short- and long-term solutions. Major emphasis within the project shall be laid on capacity building of Community Development Commit-tees to manage the watersheds in a sustainable way by integrating conservation activities and approaches to improve livelihoods through people’s participation and collaboration among different institutional and social actors. The project is embedded in Helvetas' "Disaster Risk Mitigation" (DRM) project in Kahmard (Bamyan) and Tala-wa-Barfak (Bagh-lan) and linked to the "Improving Livelihoods of Rural Communities" (ILRC) project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC).

Country / Region

The project site lies in the mountainous Kahmard District of Bamiyan province in central Afghanistan. It is located at an altitude of 1,475 meters, with a population of 17,643. Kahmard is situated 140km from Bamiyan in the north of the province, and is divided into five valleys (Hajar, Madr, Tangipushta, Ashpusht and DoAb-e-Mekh-I-Zarin).


The predominantly rural population of around 8,000 families depends on very limited irrigated land on the bottom of the valleys. An uncontrolled use of the natural resources on less fertile land in high altitude rangeland is leading not only to more floods in the valleys and decreasing soil fertility but also to reduced income for farmers.

Information about local context

The rural population of the Kahmard District depend on very little fertile land on the bottom of the valleys. The farmers nowadays have an in-come primarily through the sale of potatoes and fruit (apricot, walnut, almond, apple). Black cumin or hing are collected in the mountains and are sold expensively as “non-timber forest products”. These products are under threat by uncontrolled use of natural resources: wheat production and overgrazing by an increasing number of sheep and goats. This leads to degraded vegetation in the mountainous areas to an alarming extent. Wood is extensively used for heating but is becoming very scarce through the usage of the mountain pastures in a destructive way. All these factors (increased dryland farming, cutting of ephemerals, non-sustainable use of non-timber forest products) is leading to an increase of floods and a destruction of irrigated land, a reduction in income of the farmers, etc..

Chances / Risks

A more intensive use of community land, which is hardly used at the moment, can lead to more conflicts. But the Afghan Government works on a new legislation. Therefore conflict potential related to land use will be reduced. Even droughts affect the quantity and quality of livestock and household economies negatively. The risk that the project activities cannot be carried out due to lack of water is small. In Afghanistan the political instability and eruption of violence is a risk. Luckily the Kahmard district, where the project is located, is relatively calm and safe.

Participation of the communities

The community through their elected councillors is involved in the planning, implementation, operation and maintenance process of the project. They are also engaged in the establishment of watershed committees. Communities will also gradually take over all the responsibilities from Helvetas and contribute increasingly by using their own resources.

Project monitoring

The watershed committees are responsible for control and evaluation. Helvetas will support the committees during the project and will do a final evaluation at the end of the project.

Other relevant information

Since 2006, Helvetas has been implementing a long-term SDC-funded program for Improving Livelihoods of Rural Communities (ILRC) in 5 districts of Bamyan, Baghlan and Samangan provinces. Among others the ILRC has a livestock and pasture improvement component, and a budget for constructing infrastructures to reduce vulnerabilities caused by flood disasters in the valleys or inadequate drinking water. Complementary to the ILRC, Helvetas is funding its own WatSan program in Samangan and since 2008 a new Disaster Risk Mitigation (DRM) pro-gram in Kahmard (Bamyan) and Tala-wa-Barfak (Baghlan).

Project Update 2009

888 loose stone check dams, 160 small soil embankments, underground reservoirs, 13 plastic lined earthen reservoirs and 14 water ponds have been constructed. Together with these activities contour trenching was done, which showed very useful water conservation techniques along with the plantation of fruit trees and non-fruit trees. The participating communities are now safe from shrub cutting and grazing. Guards have been hired who are responsible for the monitoring. Further a community bakery has been established in the valley to prevent the shrub consumption at household level.

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Winner 2009 Afghanistan