Dedicated and committed volunteer Amir Kassam has served AKDN and Jamati institutions for over 40 years. During the late 1970s, Amir assisted the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) UK National Committee in its project evaluation work. More recently, he has focused on sharing his extensive knowledge of agricultural development with AKF Geneva and AKF field units in Mozambique, Syria, India, Tanzania, Madagascar and Tajikistan, and with AKDN rural support programmes in Africa and Asia.

Amir volunteered with AKF-UK in the preparation of the Silver Jubilee programme involving partnerships with the UK government and NGOs. He then served as Chair of AKF-UK and subsequently as Chair of FOCUS Europe in the 1990s. He was also the AKDN Coordinator for Hunger and Food Security in the Inter-Faith Development Dialogue Initiative.

Amir’s first TKN assignment, right at the start of the 2007 Golden Jubilee TKN initiative, was teaching a full semester course in ‘International Development from a Muslim Perspective’ at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London during the 2007-2008 academic year.

Since 2008, Amir has focused on sharing his extensive knowledge of agricultural development with AKF Geneva and AKF field units in Mozambique, Syria, India, Tanzania, Madagascar and Tajikistan, and with AKDN rural support programmes in Africa and Asia.

His expertise on the alternate agricultural paradigm of no-till Conservation Agriculture (CA) for food security, poverty alleviation and rural livelihoods was put to good use in training field staff and farmers to adopt this methodology in Africa and Asia. In 2010, Amir participated in training workshops organized by AKF Geneva in Dubai and Mozambique that were attended by Geneva programme directors and all AKF field units in Africa. During these workshops, Amir was able to expound on this methodology and explain how it fed into AKF’s agricultural and rural development strategy.

Amir’s first TKN assignment with AKF-Mozambique in 2008 involved a site assessment of the Bilibiza Agricultural Institute in Cabo Delgado and providing advice on its improvement for subsequent years. This was followed by a multi-year TKN assignment with the Income and Food Security Project in Cabo Delgado, which helped 30,000 households to adopt the CA methodology to meet their food security needs and generate surplus for the market. This successful project was documented through a PhD research study by Baqir Lalani at Reading University. In 2014, Amir led a team of prominent experts, including architect Farouk Noormohamed and Professor Gottlieb Basch from Evora University (Portugal), to formulate a long-term strategy for the transformation of the Bilibiza Agricultural Institute into a leading agricultural training establishment.

In Syria, Amir began his TKN assignment in 2008 with a focus on improving water use efficiency but was soon advising and training in CA systems to improve production and livelihood opportunities, and regenerate land productivity. The civil unrest, beginning in 2011, interrupted this work for a few years but Amir has been able to continue fieldwork from 2016 onwards when conditions permitted. During his last visit to Syria in December 2019, Amir focused on providing farmers with humanitarian assistance, working with farmers to recoup lost production, focusing on improving local food production in the face of climate change. The fact that AKF-Syria is considered a lead agency on CA has led to close cooperation on agricultural resilience with humanitarian and international agricultural organizations.

In 2011, Amir trained AKRSP-India staff and farmers in CA systems leading to a successful pilot project on sustainable production for resource-poor smallholder farmers in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. AKF-India and AKRSP-India are now able to mobilize more support to upscale this approach within their low carbon agricultural development programme, resulting in many more farmers adopting CA.

In Tajikistan, Amir began assisting AKF-Tajikistan’s Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP) in 2014 and visited every subsequent year. In 2019, he continued with agricultural development and CA mechanization training in Javshangoz, 3,450 meters in the Pamirs, and helped demonstrate the use of a no-till planter mounted on a two-wheel tractor. In 2018 and 2019, Amir led a TKN team of four members including Professors Karim and Mywish Maredia from Michigan State University, USA, and Dr. Shafique Dhanani, Founding President of a micro-finance bank in Indonesia. This TKN team assisted the India National Council in the formulation of a strategic plan for the improvement of the quality of life of the Saurashtra Jamat in Gujarat.

Although the COVID pandemic has prohibited recent physical visits, Amir continues his service virtually with AKF-India, AKRSP-India, AKF-Syria, AKF-Tajikistan and MSDSP-Tajikistan. The significant impact of Amir Kassam’s extensive volunteer service is inspiring.

Nicholas McKinlay, AKF Global Director, Programmes says, “Amir Kassam is a rare individual for whom the term ‘getting his hands dirty’ applies in a literal sense. He is happiest on the farmers’ field, in the soil showing the presence or absence of earthworms, and patiently explaining the need for farmers to look after the health of the soil. His passion has created so many converts to conservation agriculture. His willingness to travel in the remotest places, his pleasure in teaching field staff and his outstanding expertise has positively impacted thousands of lives.”