The soybean is a humble plant, but for a small group of Afghan widows, the soybean plant  offers the possibility of escaping poverty.  Three USAID Promote Women’s Leadership Development (WLD) Jawana participants developed a project to help disadvantaged women gain economic independence by cultivating and marketing soybeans.

One of them is 21-year-old Sonia Ghazal, a medical student who graduated from the three-month Jawana program in October. She decided that soybeans were the ideal crop because soybeans are inexpensive, easy to cultivate, ready to harvest in just two months and high in protein,  a good substitute for meat.

Ghazal developed a business plan and paid for the requisite background research and business license. The three women then collaborated with Pasadena-based not-for-profit Nutrition and Education International (NEI), which supports nutrition activities on behalf of Afghan women and children living in the most impoverished regions of the country. In addition to providing the soybeans and technical expertise for the project, NEI will assist widows to bring their product to market.

Marghalary Khaaraa, head of cultural affairs with the Ministry of Women Affairs, was so impressed with the business plan and dedication shown by Jawana participants that she loaned the widows land on which to cultivate soybeans.

Ghazal noted that the income from the soybeans gives the widows enhanced stature within the family. “Afghan women have many problems within their family and society, but the biggest challenges relate to the fact that they are dependent and therefore have no ability to influence family decisions.” Ghazal said.