To adapt the project to the country's context, a team of women at AKF in Afghanistan trained women from participating communities. Zahra was introduced to GROW microforests and learned how planting trees was considered an act of charity in Islam.
Zahra began spending time on the land designated for the microforest, learning practical skills by starting a small nursery, developing the microforest layout, preparing the soil and the land, and planting and maintaining the trees, all of which would support her in managing her own microforest with other women in the coming years.
Within months, the project developed into a family initiative. AKF began training the women's husbands on managing GROW microforests so they, too, could participate.
While the men – including Zahra's husbands and sons – took on tasks such as digging and transporting saplings, the women focused on cultivating saplings and assessing plants needing fertiliser or water.
Together with her neighbour Amina, Zahra planted various trees and plants in their microforest, including fruit and non-fruit species such as beans, pears, walnuts, mulberries, peaches and cherries, which on average, have a tree survival rate of 91 percent.
"This is the first time we grew beans and trees in the same land," Zahra said, describing the intercropping method she learned about that would allow her to reap immediate benefits from plants growing on the microforest floor while the newly planted trees are still small and young.
And it has been a success. To date, she has harvested 70 kg of beans – keeping half to feed her family, which helps her save money, and selling the other half in a local market at approximately $1 per kg. Both women have also harvested strawberries from the microforests, which have been selling well locally.
Amina, excited by the positive environmental impact their microforest will have, said she has had to explain this to other community members to get them on board.
"It's the first time we have done this here and usually, when you do something new, it takes time to explain the benefit to the community," she said. "Now the community is very interested in this activity [microforestry] so it will help work against climate change as well."
Both women expect the other fruits and nuts to grow in their microforest in the coming years, increasing their family's income and strengthening their climate resilience.
Zahra, who was unable to continue her studies after the third grade and has minimum literacy skills, plans to use the increase in income to send her children to school.
“I hope the situation will get better and my daughters can go to school and get a good education so it can change their lives,” she said. “If one woman is educated, it can change the family.”
Strengthening women’s economic engagement through microforests