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Ice cream: helping some of Afghanistan's poorest people to earn a living

September 2012

Surplus milk from a cooperative established by a Christian Aid partner in Afghanistan is being sold to an ice cream company – with sweet results for all involved.

Sweet treat

Mulberry, saffron, coffee and watermelon are among the most popular flavours. It may sound like an upmarket Ben and Jerry's but in fact these ice creams come from a slightly more unexpected source, the Herat Ice Cream Company, Afghanistan.

And not only do they taste delicious, but they are helping to put money in the pockets of some of Afghanistan's poorest people, as they are made from milk produced by animals given to poor families by a Christian Aid partner organisation.

Harsh climate, hardy animals

Christian Aid has been working in western Afghanistan for several decades. Here, near the border with Iran, much of the land is desert and difficult to farm. 

Hardy goats and sheep survive best, and that is what people have traditionally depended on for a living.

Working with a local Afghan organisation called Coordination for Rehabilitation and Development Service Afghanistan (CRDSA), Christian Aid has been helping people here to make a more reliable income. 

Goats distributed to village cooperatives in Afghanistan provide milk, cheese, yoghurt, and butter We gave goats to the poorest families, along with basic veterinary training to help people care for their animals better. We also provided special seed which grows well in drought-prone areas to make sure that the animals would get enough to eat and thrive.

This means that there is a higher chance of livestock surviving the dry seasons and continuing to produce milk all-year round.

Making the most of milk

The demand for milk in Asia has risen in recent years due, to some extent, to an increased awareness of its nutritional value. 

For children in particular, the high calcium and protein content makes milk a healthy supplement to school dinners.

Across Asia, about 80% of milk is produced by smallholder farmers, the kind of people that Christian Aid and CRDSA are trying to support.

We helped the Afghan farmers to organise together into cooperatives and establish a Milk Collection Centre that would significantly enhance the way that milk is collected and distributed.

The farmers are organised into a series of cooperatives across 10 villages with a total of 225 members who bring produce to the processing centre.

The majority of milk is sold to cheese and yoghurt producers but the surplus is sold to the Herat Ice Cream Company, the largest of its kind in the country.

Although a traditional type of ice cream called shir yakh (milk ice) has been eaten throughout Afghanistan for centuries, now people are starting to enjoy a more diverse range of shapes and flavours, such as the mulberry, saffron, coffee and watermelon mentioned above.

Livelihoods and luxuries

Keeping a few goats to make milk and cheese is nothing new in this remote corner of Afghanistan.  But veterinary training, drought-resistant seeds, cooperatives and large-scale ice cream production are.

Through this combination of tradition and innovation, Christian Aid and CRDSA are lifting people out of poverty; helping them not only to survive, but even to be able to afford the occasional luxury – like, perhaps, a lolly on a hot day. 

Find out more

Our work in Afghanistan 


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