Hand in Hand’s saffron project attains vital ISO certification

A pioneering initiative to lift saffron farmers in Afghanistan out of poverty has hit a new milestone, with producers involved in the project successfully securing ISO certification. The certification not only signifies compliance with international standards but, crucially, gives the product a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

Funded by Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Danida Market Development Partnerships Programme, the Organic Growth project aims to develop Afghanistan’s saffron value chain, creating jobs and tackling poverty.

Over the last few years, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has become more severe, with the World Food Programme (WFP) estimating more that more than a third of the country’s population is facing food insecurity. The Organic Growth project targets rural areas in the Herat province, where jobs are scarce, and is set to reach 3,000 farmworkers and processors.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan Executive Director, Dr Kamran Hekmati, said: “Five independent saffron companies who are taking part in the project have been awarded ISO 22000, which is a tremendous achievement and means the saffron they produce can now be sold on the international market, commanding a higher price. That money will directly benefit farmers in some of the country’s most deprived rural communities, so families can afford safe housing, medicine and put food on the table.”

Hand in Hand saffron producers receive organic certification

Hand in Hand is delighted to announce both of the saffron producers and exporting companies taking part in its Organic Growth project have now been certified by the US-NOP (National Organic Program) as organic and European Union (EU) organic C1 certificates (soil conversion for year 1).

Funded by Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Danida Market Development Partnerships Programme and a corporate foundation, Organic Growth is an innovative project to develop Afghanistan’s first organic saffron value chain – in partnership with German social enterprise Conflictfood, which will distribute the saffron once it has achieved full EU organic certification.

The project aims to improve the incomes of 3,000 farm workers and processors in the Herat province by making saffron growing more profitable. Organic saffron commands a higher price on the international market than non-organic saffron, but, to be certified as organic, producers must meet very strict criteria. It takes three years for saffron to be certified as organic as per the EU organic standards, while in NOP the saffron can be directly certified as organic if the company meets the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards. Both companies also passed their first EU years’ audit, a key step towards the important milestone of being certified as fully organic by NOP and meeting C1 for EU Organic standards.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan Executive Director, Dr Ahmad Kamran Hekmati, said: “Achieving US-NOP and EU organic certification shows we are well on the way to creating Afghanistan’s first organic saffron chain – a project which will raise incomes in some of the country’s most deprived rural communities, helping families put food on the table and pay for housing, education and healthcare.”

An update on Hand in Hand’s operations in Afghanistan

As you will know, the de-facto authorities banned women from working in NGOs on 24 December. In response to the ban, Hand in Hand Afghanistan, alongside other national and international NGOs, temporarily paused operations, working with Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) and the UN to call for the ban to be reversed.

Over the last year, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has become more severe, with the World Food Programme (WFP) estimating acute malnutrition is above emergency thresholds in 25 out of 34 provinces, and almost half of children under 5 requiring life-saving nutrition support in the next 12 months. To meet the staggering levels of need, Hand in Hand, like the majority of NGOs operating in Afghanistan, is seeking practical concessions to enable us to continue delivering vital development and humanitarian assistance to women, men and their families, for example via sectoral exceptions.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan has over 12 years experience working with vulnerable communities in some of the most remote regions of the country. Through these longstanding links we have been able to find local solutions that allow us to directly reach women and men with livelihoods training and, increasingly, vital humanitarian aid, while protecting the safety of our staff and the people we support.


Hand in Hand’s statement on the ban on women NGO workers in Afghanistan

Following a letter issued by the Taliban’s Ministry of Economy on Saturday 24 December 2022, all national and international non-governmental organisations working in Afghanistan were instructed to immediately stop women from working. The Ministry has warned that they will revoke the operating licenses of any organisations that do not comply with these new restrictions.

Women staff play an essential role in NGO activities, providing humanitarian and development services, in order to respect traditional and religious customs. This exclusion of women will impact on communities in emergency food distribution, health services, basic education, livelihood training, protection services, and disability services.

Our response

In the immediate term, Hand in Hand Afghanistan, like many other Afghan NGOs, will be suspending its regular field activities and requesting only male members of staff work from the offices, with female members of staff working from home.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan is working with the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR), which represents 183 National and International Humanitarian and Development Organisations. Collectively, we are in urgent discussions with the Ministry of Economy to withdraw their suspension letter and engage in open discussions to find a constructive and durable way forward.

We will keep you updated as the situation changes. If you have any questions please contact Amalia Johnsson, Director of Programmes at Hand in Hand International on ajohnsson@hihinternational.org.


87% of Hand in Hand’s women entrepreneurs now have the power to make their own decisions

New data from Hand in Hand shows, after taking part in the charity’s entrepreneurship training, 87% of women participants in Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan said they were able to have a say about decisions that affect them, such as household purchases, family visits and healthcare. On average, just 40.3% of women in these countries reported that they were able to participate in household decision making (World Bank).

Hand in Hand provides women entrepreneurs with the skills and confidence to create businesses that lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

Results from a sample of 9,000 most recent Hand in Hand programme graduates (from Tanzania) also showed that, on average, women entrepreneurs more than tripled their monthly profit (+322%)

The charity operates in some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities – where food insecurity is widespread. This income boost enables programme members to provide regular, nutritious meals for their families, pay for their children’s education and afford vital healthcare. In the last five years Hand in Hand International has supported the creation of 285,000 enterprises, transforming the lives of over a million people.

The data also showed that, despite an initial dip in earnings at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, (particularly in Kenya, which saw more frequent and prolonged periods of lockdown) taking part in Hand in Hand programmes enabled participants to weather the Covid-19 crisis, reporting no significant reduction in income, even as the pandemic devastated economies across the world.

Crucially, the programmes also enabled women to become more financially resilient – with 40% of participants across all programmes saying that they would be able to get through a financial shock, such as a bad harvest or unexpected medical bill, without having to sell an asset or get into debt.

Businesses were sustainable, with 88% of all micro enterprises still operational one year after launch.

Hand in Hand CEO, Dorothea Arndt, said: “In the communities we operate within, women face enormous barriers to equality – constrained by unwritten rules that restrict what they spend their time doing, and who they can see and talk to.

“Our programmes don’t just give women the skills to start their own businesses, the money they earn and the confidence they gain helps them to speak up and make decisions in the home, too.

“Increasingly, we are seeing women entrepreneurs taking up leadership roles within their communities – something that had previously been unheard of. We’re also developing a new strand of our programming to engage with men to shift their perceptions around what a woman’s role ‘should’ be.”

87% of women with the power to make their own decisions

285,000 small businesses launched

Average 322% percent increases in monthly income

The Hand in Hand online auction is here!

That’s right, folks.

Starting today, you, your friends, your family, your friends’ families and your families’ friends – and your enemies – can bid on a huge range of super-cool items, from wine and original art to designer bags and wine to holidays, e-bikes and wine.

“Interesting,” you say. “But can I enter a raffle to win a stunning Orbit No. 1 diamond necklace from Swiss jewellers Montluc?”


And that’s not all. Every time you bid or buy a raffle ticket, you’ll be helping women in some of the most challenging places on Earth beat the odds and succeed as entrepreneurs, which is literally impossible to argue with.

So go ahead. Finish Start your Christmas shopping or treat yourself to a presumably well-earned gift. Then forward our auction site to every single person in your address book, twice.

Happy bidding!

Let’s do this

Why women and girls are vulnerable to coronavirus

Although the risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19 is greater among men and the elderly, women in the developing world face unique challenges that shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, Hand in Hand Programme Development Manager Isabel Creixell explains how women are being affected – and what Hand in Hand is doing to help them.




Women are traditional caregivers: when a family member gets sick, it’s their job to step in. First and foremost, this puts them at greater risk of infection. But even in cases when they don’t fall ill, the burden of household work can increase exponentially, particularly at a time when children are home from school. Parents all over the world have been struggling with a version of this, and in many cases feeling completely overwhelmed. Now imagine if you also had to walk miles every day to fetch water, plus do the chores and shopping yourself, all while tending to the smallholding that’s keeping your family from starving and, in many cases, trying to run a small business on the side. Something’s got to give, and when a family member or members fall ill that thing is almost always the business – and in many cases the farm.




Women working as unpaid nurses don’t have time to be unpaid farmers. In households where men don’t share the burden (most of them, in rural settings) and virtually 100 percent of female-headed households, health crises can turn to hunger crises, quick.

Across our operating countries – right now – there are women who don’t have the time to grow food because of coronavirus and don’t have the savings to buy it. Those who do have savings will be running out soon. At the same time, women are more likely than men to work in the informal economy, meaning they lack social protections like insurance or sick paid leave. Their capacity to absorb shocks, in other words, can be effectively non-existent.

Finally, and maybe most starkly, when economic pressures and food shortages visit rural households, tradition often dictates that women and girls eat least and last.



Gender-based violence

Increases in gender-based violence during lockdown have rightly caught our attention here in the developed world. The developing world, where rates of violence against women are significantly higher, deserves our attention too.

Let’s not forget that things could get worse, not better, as the lockdown lifts and the true extent of our economic crisis begins to dawn. If isolation is one cause of gender-based violence, stress and financial difficulties are two more. At a time when every spare penny will have gone to buying food, escaping violent relationships will be more difficult than ever.




Health services can be universally lacking in the countries where we work. But even when they’re available women face unique challenges in accessing them. In some communities, restrictive norms keep women from travelling alone. In others’, doctors won’t see them unless their husband – who could well be ill with Covid-19 – is present at the appointment.

How Hand in Hand is helping

Long-term plans to help women weather the coming economic storm are being developed by our programmes teams now.

In the more immediate term, we’ve already taken measures to protect our women members. These include:

  • Reaching women that official health guidance hasn’t, typically via their Self-Help Group leaders, to spread information about social distancing, handwashing and other virus prevention measures.
  • Providing opportunities to talk about domestic abuse. Although they’re stuck in their homes, some women find that simply having a space to talk about their situation can benefit their mental health. When the lockdown is over, we can more actively direct them to support services.
  • Providing information about keeping their businesses running, from how to produce items such as soap and masks to boosting food security by pointing rural members to alternative sources of seedlings and crops.
  • Working with men, who make up roughly 20 percent of our members, to share information about the benefits of sharing household tasks.
  • Reaching men with targeted messages about coping mechanisms, and providing someone to talk to, in order to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan steps up fight against Covid-19

Hand in Hand is delivering soap, chlorine solution and crucial virus prevention training to 26,000 Afghans as the country braces for a Covid-19 crisis that could become “another Wuhan” without immediate action.

Launched on Sunday 5 April, the emergency response came just days after Afghan officials appealed to NGOs for help, targeting 4,000 hard-to-reach households in Herat, Balkh and Parwan Provinces.

“We consider it our duty to inform people about methods of prevention,” says Zahra, a Hand in Hand trainer on the frontlines of our response. “We can save lives.”

An uncertain world

In a world where so much is uncertain, Afghans have reason to be especially concerned. Every day, thousands of returnees pour across the border from Iran, one of the early epicentres of the virus, fleeing both the economic devastation wrought by Covid-19 and the virus itself. It’s impossible to know how many are bringing it with them, but public health officials here are worried.

“We fear that Herat will turn into another Wuhan,” Afghanistan’s national health minister, Ferozuddin Feroz, told reporters in late-March. Add to that the country’s depleted health system, which struggles to keep up even at the best of times, and prevention is the only hope.

For as long as that hope remains, Hand in Hand will do everything in our power to protect our members and their neighbours. That’s why we’re urgently appealing for your help to nearly triple our impact, reaching 70,000 more Afghans – most of them living in camps for the internally displaced – with soap, chlorine solution and virus prevention training. With your help we can save lives. But we have to act now.

Hope remains

A day’s travel away in Balkh Province, Hand in Hand member Sharifa has worries of her own. The 24-year-old was among the first to receive virus prevention training from Hand in Hand in the earliest days of the outbreak, before the government’s response kicked in. In an area without adequate health services, she says, that training could be her community’s only defence.

“There is a health centre in our village that cannot do anything about Coronavirus and a hospital in the district with very few facilities, no capacity and no equipment for testing,” says the mother of four young children.

For precisely that reason, she says, Hand in Hand’s training on how to keep safe “has brought me peace of mind. Thank you to the supporters of Hand in Hand. Please know you are giving us hope.”

Afghanistan recorded its first confirmed case of Covid-19 on 24 February. Within weeks, Hand in Hand trainers were instructing members – many living in remote areas that public health messages don’t always reach – on virus prevention measures including handwashing, social distancing and more.

Help us save lives. Donate today

With your help, we’ll…

Reach almost 100,000 Afghans

Provide 14,000 households with 6 bars of soap, a bottle of chlorine solution and one spray-pump each

Train every household in handwashing, social distancing, disinfecting surfaces and more

Hand in Hand fights spread of Covid-19 in Afghanistan

Hand in Hand Afghanistan is joining the fight against Covid-19, sharing virus prevention guidelines with families in some of the hardest-to-reach areas in the country.

Lessons in handwashing, social distancing and more have appeared alongside our usual business and skills training since the start of last week, when the country reported its earliest cases.

Other measures taken so far include:

  • Limiting training sessions to three to five members as opposed to the usual 20 to 30.
  • Wherever possible, conducting training in members’ homes.
  • In some projects, distributing livestock and chickens slightly ahead of schedule. In the event of a lockdown, chicken eggs in particular will be a vital source of nutrition. Besides, we don’t want members’ training to go to waste.
  • Prioritising training modules that will do the most good during a crisis (for now, marketing takes a backseat to poultry farming, for example).

Forty cases of Covid-19 and one death have been reported in Afghanistan as of 23 March. Home to one of our biggest projects in the country, Herat Province is the epicentre of the outbreak, with most cases arriving from neighbouring Iran where thousands of Afghans are employed. Cases are expected to jump as more people return from Iran every day.

Visit our Covid updates page for the latest information on our programmes in Afghanistan and beyond.

Hand in Hand doubles work with returnees in Afghanistan

Two provinces, 2,250 members, 56,250 chickens and more than 8 million eggs a year. Hand in Hand’s work with returnees and displaced people in Afghanistan is growing exponentially thanks to a third round of funding from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the German government’s development agency.

Launching this month in Herat and Bamyan provinces, the 18-month project will train 2,145 returnees and 105 internally displaced people (IDPs) – many fleeing Taliban violence, droughts and famine  – to work their way towards a prosperous future in Afghanistan’s growing poultry value chain.

The project follows two others funded by GIZ, both targeting displaced Afghans, the last of which concluded in December 2018.

From refugees to returnees

More than 700,000 Afghan refugees returned to the country from Iran and Pakistan in 2018 – the equivalent, in this relatively small country, of almost the entire population of New York City arriving in the US. But even they are only a fraction of the nearly 4.5 million returnees and IDPs forced to relocate in Afghanistan in recent years, commensurate with the population of California.

Few will have been back to Afghanistan since leaving, lacking family and friends to help them get back on their feet. Thousands will have never set foot in the country at all. And despite receiving small cash grants to support their resettlement, 75 percent will be destitute within three months, drained by the urgent need for food, shelter and transportation, according to the UN.

For women, especially young ones, the challenges are even greater. Restricted mobility, hostile markets and other cultural barriers make earning a living virtually impossible. In Herat Province, for example, only 13 percent of women are involved in any income-generating work.

The role of poultry

If the pilot programme proved it, last year’s full-scale project confirmed it: Afghanistan’s poultry value chain is ideal for returnees and IDPs. Skills are easily learned. Incomes, compared to other rural sectors, are high. And increases are quickly realised. The average beneficiary in last year’s project earned a monthly net income of 1,771 AFN (US $23.50) within one year, in many cases starting from zero.

For members with restricted mobility, the benefits don’t end there. Poultry farms can be run from entrepreneurs’ own households. At the same time, nutrition and food security improve – a matter of particular interest to those responsible for childcare.

What we’ve learned so far

With the pilot and 2018’s project behind us, this year’s project promises to be our most successful yet. Improvements based on previous lessons learnt include:

  • Improved metrics for assessing need. For the first time, we’ll prioritise widows, female-headed households and disabled people.
  • New training on traditional hatching methods and nutrition, including the proven benefits of eggs to infant and maternal health.
  • Underground cooling rooms that are easier to maintain and more accessible than previous cooling technology.


Sustainability is fundamental to Hand in Hand and GIZ’s work. That’s why Hand in Hand is forming six member-led poultry associations, comprising approximately 375 members each, to help our members achieve economies of scale and access larger markets and value chains.

The project also prioritises environmental sustainability by using solar-powered coolers and promoting eco-friendly practices such as using chicken faeces as fertiliser.

By the numbers

18 months

2,250 jobs

8 million-plus eggs