Afghanistan

Press conference by Mr. Tekeste Tekie, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in Afghanistan; Dr. Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Spokesperson's Office

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WFP CONTINUES TO DISPATCH FOOD TO AFGHANS AHEAD OF WINTER

Ahead of the winter freeze, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) continues to deliver food for impoverished Afghans, some of whom will be inaccessible once the bitter cold arrives and heavy snows set in.

To date, through its pre positioning of food before winter, WFP has distributed 23,000 tonnes of wheat, oil, pulses and iodized salt to around 950,000 of needy people in 23 provinces.

The plan is to deliver food assistance of approximately 36,000 MT during the winter to areas throughout Afghanistan.

So far 64 per cent of the planned food has been dispatched.

Between January and 13 November 2008, there were 25 armed attacks against commercial vehicles carrying WFP food.

So far this year, approximately 870 tons of food, valued at around USD 520,000 has been lost.

With this, WFP could have fed almost 100,000 vulnerable people for one month.

COMMUNITY BASED SCHOOLS SUPPORTED BY UNICEF

During 2008, 715 community-based schools have been established and 48 out of 79 planned schools were constructed in the eastern region alone with the support of UNICEF.

151,502 students including 76,402 girls and 75,100 boys from grade one to four are benefiting from these schools.

Some 3,793 teachers are teaching in these schools.

Community based schools are those established within houses.

INAUGURATION CEREMONY OF THE DISBANDMENT OF ILLEGAL ARMED GROUPS FACILITY

An inauguration ceremony of a new facility at the Ministry of Interior for the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups Programme (DIAG) will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday 19 November 2008 in the Main Conference Room at the Ministry.

The facility will be the new central office within the Ministry of the Interior responsible for implementing the DIAG programme.

For more information please collect details from the side table.

CONFERENCE ON RETURN AND REINTEGRATION OF AFGHAN REFUGEES

The Government of Afghanistan and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) will jointly hold an International Conference on the Return and Reintegration of Afghan Refugees on Wednesday, 19 November 2008.

The event will take place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul and will be cochaired by Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

The conference aims to mobilize support for sustainable return, reintegration and related development programmes under the five-year Afghanistan National Development Strategy.

Journalists are invited to attend the opening (09:00 - 09:20 am) of the conference in the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Hall.

For further information please collect a media advisory from the side table.

FAO: Winter planting is the main agricultural season in Afghanistan. The main challenge for poor farmers is how to get quality seed (certified seed) to increase their productivity in view of the high food prices in the country. The demand for quality seed increases from time to time.

To give an example on wheat, which is the main cereal and staple crop in the country: The results of a 2004 study demonstrate that farmers in Afghanistan buy up to 31 per cent of their wheat seed requirement from formal and informal sources. It is estimated that the total effective wheat seed market is equivalent to 93,000 metric tonnes. The current supply of quality seed (certified seed) accounts for only five per cent of the total annual wheat seed requirement of about 300,000 metric tonnes. FAO initiated a project to address the high food price and drought-affected provinces in the country under the Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) in December 2007 to boost food production in the short term. Under the project, 149 tonnes of certified wheat seed, 149 tonnes of DAP and 149 tonnes of Urea fertilizers were distributed to 2,980 vulnerable farming families (drought-affected) for the autumn 2008 planting season in Sari Pul province.

USAID and DIFD supported financial contribution to FAO a total amount of US$6 million (US$3 million USAID and US$3 million DIFD) disbursed as a loan to the seed enterprises. A total amount of 12,030 metric tonnes of certified wheat seed was produced using their own money and loan money; of these 7,402 metric tonnes of seed has been sold. FAO will continue supporting the county's seed sector to boost agricultural productivity in the country in the coming year.

Seed distribution: FAO Emergency Rehabilitation Project (ERU) has distributed and is in the process of distributing a total amount of 2,044 metric tonnes certified wheat seed for 2007/autumn and 2008/spring and autumn planting seasons to 40,980 vulnerable farmers.

Animal Feed distribution: A total of 1,577 metric tonnes of concentrated animal feed has been distributed to 15,570 household to be used in this winter season. An additional 717 metric tonnes animal feed funded by Sweden is being bought and will be distributed shortly.

In order to address emergencies more effectively long term plans are needed. FAO will make five year's emergency project plan including provision of certified seed and fertilizer in close collaboration with FAO's long-term seed multiplication programme to enhance accessibility to certified seed and crop productivity for food security in this country.

FAO Seed project: The Afghanistan National Seed Association (ANSA) was established on 12 May 2008 in a unanimous agreement by stakeholders nationwide as their umbrella organization for advocacy and representation both nationally and internationally with the support of FAO.

To enhance yield and food production, 12,000 tonnes of certified wheat seed were supplied for 2008 autumn planting, of which 3,000 tonnes are rain fed varieties and 9,000 tonnes are irrigated varieties

The project will establish two more offices in Badakhshan and Kandahar soon to meet the needs of more enterprises entering the market and an increasing number of farmers using certified seed

The project operates in seven provincial offices in Bamyan, Herat, Helmand, Jalalabad, Kunduz, Mazar and Kabul, which serve a total of 29 private seed enterprises.

Use of certified seeds alone increases yield by at least 30 per cent.

FAO's message for the donor community and the Government of Afghanistan is that preventing shortages of food in the future requires investing in irrigation and high yielding crop varieties, to help Afghanistan produce the food that it needs. Although emergency measures for drought and winter affected farmers are essential, FAO always emphasizes food production for humans as well as animal feed inside the country. And this means more investment in agriculture.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

IRNA [translated from Dari]: What amount of certified seed does Afghanistan need?

FAO: As I mentioned earlier 31 per cent of Afghan farmers buy seed from markets both formal and informal. The total need for wheat seed is 300,000 tonnes. If we take 31 per cent of this it comes to 93,000 tonnes of certified seed that is needed, if we assume that 31 per cent of people use it. The rest use their own seed; they may have used certified seeds and then conserve their seed to use them again and again. The ideal situation is to reach the 300,000 level. But it is going to take a lot of time.

PAJHWOK [translated from Pashto]: Authorities in Nangarhar complained last Friday that even though there is no poppy cultivation in the province no organization is supporting farmers in cultivating alternative crops. What is your response to the Nangarhar complaint?

FAO: Nangarhar is one of the provinces producing certified seeds. In fact 540 tonnes of certified seeds were produced in Nangarhar in 2008. As far as the support is concerned, indeed it is not enough in the country. But comparatively Nangarhar was better this year [less affected] in terms of drought. Maybe that distracted the attention of the donors from the province. Indeed farmers should be rewarded if they stop poppy cultivation. I can only sympathize with the farmers and say that more needs to be done. That is why in my opening remarks I said that we need more investment in agriculture throughout the country including in Nangarhar. At the moment investment in agriculture is very little.

BBC PERSIAN/PASHTO SERVICE: Millions of people are facing hunger and food shortages in Afghanistan. What is your concern regarding the food shortages for the coming winter?

FAO: In the United Nations system different UN agencies have different mandates. Our sister agency, the World Food Programme is in charge of importing food and food distribution for vulnerable people both in urban and rural areas. Our mandate is to produce food. Our sister agency imports food to mitigate famines and shortages in particular like this year. Our job is to produce food in the country and that was the message I was trying to send. The investment so far is very little, so we were not able to produce food. But Afghanistan has potential, with very good land and plenty of rivers and water. So if we expand irrigation and use certified seeds we can double current yields and minimize the food requirement from outside. Even now if you have money it is very difficult because of the high cost of wheat. But the aim should be to produce it in the country. To answer your question in short, WFP deals with this problem and my colleague earlier mentioned that they have disposed of 36,000 metric tonnes; some 67 per cent is already on site.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: According to a statement by the Ministry of Agriculture last year, 40 per cent of livestock was lost due to the lack of food and there are concerns over the same situation this year if assistance is not provided. It will also be a blow to the Afghan economy. Has FAO taken any measures to prevent this happening again this year?

FAO: This year, due to the drought, animals face shortage. The figure you mentioned that 90,000 animals died or were sold because of shortage of food. So far, concentrated animal feed brought from outside has been provided to some degree. I mentioned earlier, some 1,557 metric tonnes has been provided. To give you some understanding, for a cow or ox, you need two kilos as food per-day and a half kilo for a sheep or goat. FAO will provide some 717 metric tonnes and some more on a later time, but the solution again lies in producing this in the country. It is very difficult; this is also imported from outside, from Pakistan and Europe and has been very expensive as well. Due to the fact that food was expensive, animal feed was also expensive so the solution lies to produce it here and we are having proposals to submit to donors. For very little money, animal feed can be produced here in the future to supplement in case of droughts. At the moment, limited quantities are produced in dairy farms in Kabul, Kunduz and Mazar as well.

KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: I would first like to know what the amount of wheat production is in the current year as the productivity was not enough and wheat was imported from neighbouring countries? At the beginning of this year we witnessed the outbreak of Gulran disease in Herat province due to uncertified seeds. What are your plans to distribute certified seeds to the farmers in Herat province?

FAO: We all know that the harvest in 2008 was poor. It was 38 per cent lower than the harvest in 2007, which wasn't good. Hopefully this year we will get very good rain and snow so that we can get back to the good production of 2007 or even better. With regards to Herat, the illness was not related to certified or uncertified seeds. It was a totally different matter. That was a plant weed that created the illness. Otherwise in Herat, yes the plan is to distribute certified seeds. Herat itself produced about 4000 metric tonnes of certified seeds this year, one of the highest in the country and it is being distributed inside and outside of Herat province.

GERMAN NATIONAL RADIO: Now that the wheat and grain prices are so high, it should be a very good business idea for farmers to switch to wheat production. Why is it so difficult for them to switch and what does FAO do to encourage them to switch?

FAO: Last year the planting season for poppy as well as wheat was at the same time. The wheat price increase came after that. The planting season is November-December, but the price increase worldwide jumped from January onwards. So by that time the decision was already made by farmers on what they wanted to grow. This year I expect that the plantation of wheat is more attractive as the price is very high. I can give you comparative figures: even without the current good price of wheat one can show that if we increase yields of wheat and use the irrigation effectively and double it, wheat cultivation can be more profitable than poppy cultivation.

FAO is not going out to farmers and telling them to grow this or that. Our job is to demonstrate that wheat is a profitable business, as with any other agricultural crop. The advantage in irrigation is that you can have wheat followed by rice or wheat followed by other vegetable crops. I will give you some figures: for example some farmers in Kunduz who planted wheat followed by cauliflower in 2007 profited up to US$5,000 per hectare.

In Helmand itself this year farmers switched a limited amount of their land to wheat and they achieved up to 73 quintals per hectare in one case and 80 quintals per hectare in another case and this is even by American or European standards on the very high end of production.

Our aim is to use irrigation combined with certified seeds to increase the yield to an average of four of five [tonnes per hectare] from the current average of 2.6 in irrigated and 1.1 in rain fed tonnes per hectare.

SABAH TV [translated from Dari]: If I am not mistaken you said that 36,000 metric tonnes of food will be distributed this winter. Specifically what amount of food does Afghanistan need for the coming winter and what is your proposal to address this need? Can it be covered and if not how will we solve this problem?

FAO: Although this question is related to the World Food Programme (WFP) but for the sake of clarity I will answer. Out of the deficit from production, part of the food needs are met by imports by the World Food Programme. The 36,000 metric tonnes you have mentioned, is not all they import - they import more than that, maybe hundred of thousands of tonnes. But the 36,000 metric tonnes are for the winterization programme only. In addition to that the Government itself is also importing something like 240,000 tonnes - you should check this figure with them. Then the rest is covered by commercial imports. The traders, those who bring the bread and other things, are those who bring the bulk of imports. So the deficit is covered in this manner.

UNAMA: If I may add one point, there are two things here -- the urgent needs for winter and the deficit of the harvest. In terms of urgent need for winter: WFP is distributing 36,000 metric tonnes, while in terms of deficit a lot of countries in the world are not self-sufficient and need to import to cover their deficits, as does Afghanistan. For this purpose the importation of food from other countries is taking place by the Government and the private sector. So there are two different issues: one is the humanitarian assistance the second is importing the food from outside the country to overcome the deficit.

CHERAGH DAILY NEWS [translated from Dari]: You said that Afghanistan's food productivity was 31 per cent less than needed. What is your concern of the consequences of the food shortage?

FAO: Yes of course everyone is concerned. For us it was disappointing that last year was a very good year and we were looking forward that another good harvest year would be coming but that did not happen. The shortage of course as I mentioned earlier is covered by various means such as imports by government, donors and mostly by the commercial sector which is importing food and make a living out of it. Our objective which we should not lose sight of it is how we close the gap? How do we eliminate this shortage in the future? It is possible. If we spend money on this now it is possible to solve this problem. This is the message that I want you to take.