Scientists from one of the world's leading agricultural research centers announced today the creation of a global consortium of research institutes, relief and development organizations, universities, and aid agencies to undertake a multi-million dollar effort to rebuild Afghanistan's agriculture. War conditions coupled with the region's worst drought in at least 40 years have devastated Afghanistan's food-production capabilities and depleted critical seed stocks, leaving the nation heavily dependent upon food aid from international donors. Consortium members say that by harnessing the best of agricultural research, Afghanistan will be able to revive its once-thriving farming sector and move toward food self-sufficiency by 2007.
"Agriculture in Afghanistan is going to need a lot of help. Our mission is to ensure that agricultural reconstruction efforts are based on the best practices science has to offer," says Adel El-Beltagy, PhD, director general of the International Center for Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). A Future Harvest Center based in Aleppo, Syria, ICARDA is the lead organization in this new initiative, known as the Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan.
Future Harvest is a global, nonprofit organization that builds awareness and support for food and environmental research for a world with less poverty, a healthier human family, well-nourished children, and a better environment. Future Harvest is an initiative of 16 food and environmental research centers that receive funding from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. CGIAR is part of the World Bank.
Agriculture is the largest and most important sector of the economy in Afghanistan, a country of about 22 million people. The Future Harvest Consortium will work to replenish damaged seed and irrigation systems to restore critical farming activities, both for near-term requirements and long-term sustainability. The Consortium will provide farmers with seeds to plant for the upcoming spring and fall growing seasons and vaccines to prevent disease in Afghan livestock. The consortium will also focus on the once-prosperous livestock and horticultural (fruits and vegetables) sectors, as well as land and water management.
Incorporating Science into Humanitarian Aid Efforts
In order to provide immediate relief, the consortium will supply much-needed seeds for farmers to plant crops for the approaching spring and autumn growing seasons. Approximately 3,500 metric tons of seed will be made available in the spring and about another 10,000 metric tons in the autumn.
"There is an urgent need to focus not only on the long-term rebuilding process, but also on the near-term requirements of farmers for basic food consumption and nutrition," says El-Beltagy.
The consortium seeks to ensure that Afghan farmers receive the appropriate seeds and tools for their specific farming needs, something recovery efforts often overlook when responding to emergency situations. In addition, all aspects of the consortium's efforts will involve teams of experts with extensive experience working in Central Asia.
The consortium hopes to create the critical mass of seed needed for Afghan farmers to be able to produce enough of their own seed to achieve food security and eliminate the need for food aid. The goal for replenishment is 125,000 tons of seed, which experts expect to reach in three years. FAO and international aid organizations have already begun this process of producing seed in Afghanistan.
Abdul Raman Manan, former director of Afghanistan's national agricultural research service now working on Afghan issues with FAO in Pakistan, says Afghanistan's agriculture is experiencing an unprecedented challenge from the aftermath of the war and three years of extreme drought. "It is not just a matter of repatriating traditional food crops or providing fertilizers and other agricultural inputs," Manan says. "The country's entire agricultural production system has been disrupted. But with the consortium's collective scientific expertise and available resources, we can bring significant progress to Afghanistan more quickly."
Agriculture in Afghanistan: Combining Tradition with Scientific Development
Manan says that Afghanistan once had a strong agricultural research and extension service and was agriculturally self-sufficient until the Soviet Union invaded in 1978. "Agriculture is at the heart of our culture and our history," he says. "Over the centuries, Afghan farmers domesticated 18 important food and horticultural crops." Afghanistan used to have its own seed and agricultural credit system and a reputation in neighboring countries for superior fruit.
Because restoring seed supply is so critical and provides the foundation for other rebuilding efforts, about 75 percent of the consortium's resources will be targeted in 2002 to seed initiatives. The consortium will focus remaining resources on improving livestock numbers and health, restoring soil and water management, and reintroducing the country's native fruit and vegetable crops.
In the framework of revitalizing its agriculture, the new Afghan government is also committed to eradicating poppy cultivation that keeps the illegal drug trade thriving. However, experts fear the government will have a hard time achieving that goal unless it can provide alternatives to help farmers earn cash.