Assessment missions help guide Afghan rehabilitation efforts

News and Press Release
Originally published
Afghan farmers need adequate, safe and secure water supplies, as well as ready access to credit, fertilizer, and quality seed if they are to deliver sustained food security to their war and drought ravaged country. This was the main message gleaned from a series of needs assessments carried out by the Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan, which met at ICARDA headquarters 18-20 November to review findings and plan projects in response.
The group was welcomed by ICARDA Board Chairman Mr Robert Havener and opening statements were made by Mr Mir Dad Panjsheri, Special Advisor to the Afghanistan Minister of Agriculture and Livestock (MOAL); Dr Larry Paulson, Agriculture Development Officer, United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and ICARDA Director General Prof. Dr Adel El-Beltagy, who emphasized that "stability and security in Afghanistan is not only important for Afghans, but for the world."
"I'll never forget this conference or the friendship. I wish everyone in our nation could see what you are feeling and thinking about the people of Afghanistan,"

Mir Dad Panjsheri

Workshop participants then considered information collected by teams of field workers and scientists who braved considerable danger to interview farmers throughout Afghanistan over the past 12 months.

Prior to the prolonged war and drought, Afghan households were able to produce about 86% of their food; now they expect to cover only about 59% of their total food requirement. Access to quality seed of improved varieties would greatly reduce rural poverty and hunger, according to the findings of the crop improvement and seed assessment.

Horticulture once accounted for 30-50% of Afghanistan's export earnings. Today, exports are negligible. When the sector recovers from war and drought, it will still have to contend with increased global competition, and the rising expectations of export customers, which will require greater focus on quality and marketing.

Nonetheless, horticulture holds considerable potential for improving the nutrition and incomes of farm households, and could provide an alternative to poppy cultivation, according to the horticulture and marketing assessment. But, first, investment will have to be made into transportation and marketing infrastructure, including storage facilities.

Lack of credit for quality seed and fertilizer, poor soil fertility due to neglect, and damaged irrigation infrastructure were the main constraints identified by the soil and water assessment team. Farmers also expressed concern about a possible locust infestation in the upcoming growing season.

The team identified potential for expanding irrigated land, but found that Afghan farmers need more information on efficient use of water and fertilizer.

Representatives from MOAL, United States universities, non-governmental organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the private sector, and member centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research took part in the planning process. They separated into four groups-crops and seeds; soil and water; horticulture; and livestock-to set priorities and develop concept papers for short-, medium-, and long-term projects to pursue in partnership with MOAL with the help of donors. The Consortium's initial research and seed distributions have been funded by USAID.

Much has already been done by the Consortium to meet the Afghan emergency. More than 3500 tonnes of improved, high-quality wheat seed was shipped to farmers in time for spring planting in 2002, and local growers were contracted to produce 5000 tonnes of seed for the fall planting. Still more seed of other crops, including some Afghan landrace species stored in ICARDA's genebank, was sent to the country for evaluation and multiplication. The International Potato Center provided 22 tonnes of quality seed of adapted potato varieties from Pakistan and India for evaluation and multiplication. To date, more than US$1 million has been injected into the economy of Afghanistan as part of the seed procurement, cleaning, and distribution process.

The rehabilitation of looted and destroyed research stations is an important component in efforts to restock Afghanistan's genebank and evaluate local varieties. Significant development value might lie in Afghanistan's unique and diverse varieties of high-value horticultural crops.

Mr Panjsheri closed the final plenary with a moving expression of confidence and appreciation.

For more information

ICARDA's ( mission is to improve the welfare of people and alleviate poverty through research and training in dry areas of the developing world by increasing production, productivity, and nutritional quality of food, while preserving and enhancing the natural resource base. ICARDA is a Future Harvest Center.

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