Women’s Agenda: ‘Female leadership delivers hope, food and jobs to Afghan widows’


womensagenda.com.au has promoted the launch of Food Ladder in Afghanistan. Read below or follow the link to read the vision and friendship that inspired this expansion.

Last week, in partnership with fellow Australian-based non-profit organisation Mahboba’s Promise, we announced a unique and ambitious social enterprise project to address the food security challenges affecting vulnerable widows and their families in Afghanistan.

I am the Director and Co-founder of Food Ladder International, and we have a mission to address food security by empowering the poorest people in the world with our environmentally sustainable, high-yield, hydroponic greenhouse garden system. While it sounds complicated its actually quite simple; we found a way to adapt commercial farming techniques in a simple system that delivers commercial-scale quality and output to the poor. Thus far we have empowered hundreds of people throughout Australia and the slums of India with jobs growing much needed nutritious leafy greens that are sold back to the community.

Mahboba Rawi, the founder of Mahboba’s Promise, and I were instantly galvanised around a shared empathy and vision for change. Even before we conceptualised our project aptly names ‘The Food Ladder Oasis for Afghan Women’ we knew we wanted our respective international aid organisations to work together, to do something seriously significant.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. 11 million Afghans or 36% of the population live in absolute poverty. Around 7 million Afghans are classed as food insecure, consuming less than 2,100 kilocalories per day. Widows, of which there are said to be around 1.5 million in this war-torn country are especially disadvantaged with few options for them to earn an income and support themselves.

The growth of Food Ladder has always been directed by where the need is the greatest. As climate change finds its feet and shows us the true strength of its character my personal belief has been that we must empower those most at risk to address its side effects, such as food security, at a grass roots level. It is those who have the least in this world that are affected the most, and with the crisis only getting worse Food Ladder is gearing up to mitigate its impact.

I am fortunate in my career to meet some extraordinary people. Mahboba is one of those people you never forget. She is a strong willed Australian-Afghan woman who has made it her business to change the lives of the disempowered widows and orphans of Afghanistan and I was instantly drawn to her fierce intensity.

In Afghanistan if your husband dies, or is incapacitated, you are left with no way of protecting – or providing for – yourself. Impoverished women lack education, and when widowed, become devoid of any means of looking after themselves or their children. As such Mahboba’s Promise has become the guardian for hundreds of widows and orphans around the country.

In order to extend her reach and achieve organisational self-sufficiency Mahboba’sPromise had been looking to generate social enterprise and revenue into the organisation, delivering jobs for widows simultaneously. With a job she can hope to turn her life around forever. This has been one of Food Ladder’s greatest legacies; the development of financially sustainable social enterprise all around the world.

‘Food Ladder Oasis for Afghan Women’ will address Mahboba’s challenge directly. Food Ladder will deliver a purpose built hydroponic system to generate enough produce to supplement the diets of 250 orphans and provide jobs for 30 widows in the first 18 months. Growing upwards of 3,000 plants at any given point and cropping every 5-6 weeks, our outputs are stunning.

We have designed a system that will not only not only address the food needs of Mahboba’s community but deliver a surplus which will be sold back into the market so that they can cover their ongoing operations and maintenance costs. The series of greenhouses will be situated on two hectares of land that we can expand relative to the growth of the enterprise. In 3 years time I expect our operation and our outcomes to double.

Kabul, one of the four cities where Mahboba’s Promise is stationed, has a temperature range from 40C to -5C which means that with conventional agricultural methods there is only a small window of 5 to 6 months in the year when food can be grown. This means that for many, half the year consists of potatoes for dinner at best. Food Ladder systems are able to turn that output on its head. Food Ladder systems create an artificial environment inside the greenhouses to moderate the temperate where growing is optimal meaning growing can happen year round, even when temperatures drop below zero.

We are, what I like to call, a holistically sustainable organisation. Not only are we socially and economically sustainable, we are environmentally sustainable. Our designs use closed loop irrigation that ensure the most stringent conservation of water. We can also leverage solar power in place of electricity to power the fans and nutrient dosing technology. Importantly, no crop fertilisers escape the system to seep into the landscape ensuring we have zero footprint.

My vision for Food Ladder has always been to ship our systems to communities all around the world challenged by hunger and food crisis. We have developed a way to provide a local source of food to communities and the technology which enables them to cultivate crops indigenous to their diets. The beautiful differentiator in our work is that we provide the skills and infrastructure for impoverished communities to enjoy self-sufficiency ongoing. I don’t see why every community crippled by hunger shouldn’t enjoy the security of a Food Ladder system.

Mahboba and I instantly realised that by working together we could create something truly unique. Our dream is that from Kabul, our collaboration reaches across Afghanistan and touches the lives of the 1.5 million widows in dire need of our help.

If you our your business would like to be apart of this exciting initiative, please do get in touch with me at [email protected]. This is a brilliant opportunity for meaningful corporate social responsibility and high-impact giving.

Both Mahboba’s Promise and Food Ladder are eager to point out that the collaborative ‘Food Ladder Oasis for Afghan Women’ project will address various Millenium Development goals: MDG 1, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; MDG 3, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment; and MDG 7, ensure environmental sustainability.

For more information visit http://mahbobaspromise.org