Agriculture is fundamental in Afghanistan: 70-80% of the population works in this sector. But 30 years of war have not only left their mark on the Afghan population, but also on the biodiversity of the country, and this has caused a loss of important traditional agricultural knowledge that was passed down from generation to generation, according to an American philosopher Mr. Scanlon.
The Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock is currently working on a system of certification of seeds mainly for endemic varieties of wheat, an important crop in Afghanistan for economic and cultural reasons, in order to promote the use of the best seeds in local variants among farmers.
Wheat contributes 60% of the average caloric intake of the Afghan population, but domestic production is not enough to meet the demand for grain. This happens, in part, because more than 50% of the wheat crop is seasonal and the rains are usually scarce or irregular. Another reason is that many farmers grow only wheat, which puts them in a situation of economic vulnerability and food insecurity.
Still, wheat is not the only crop that is being worked on right now. The American NGO Roots of Peace is dedicated to unearthing mines and building sustainable agriculture systems in post-war countries, and collaborates with Afghan farmers to develop and maintain old local fruit varieties and orchards in the country, instead of introducing new foreign species.
“The government can offer between 5,000 and 10,000 certified wheat seeds each year to farmers,” says Javid Qaem, general director of the Ministry of Agriculture. “In this way, they can increase their yield per unit of land. Cases in which farmers prefer their own seeds, or the seeds of their local or neighboring areas, and refuse to use others, so we must work more on that, to raise awareness of the problem.”
“In the West we produce fruits that look good in supermarkets, but the tomatoes we buy have little flavor,” says Gary Kuhn, president of Roots of Peace, adding that the fruit of the “ancient world” can be found in countries like Afghanistan. It is much more flavorful than modern varieties in the United States and Europe.
When the organization first arrived in Afghanistan in 2003, two years after the fall of the Taliban, many farmers could not access their land because the rural land was littered with mines. The largest orchard they found barely had 35 trees, and in many cases, they were half dead, according to Kuhn.
In 11 years, the organization, which mainly employs Afghans, has created 25,000 orchards with about 150 trees in each. A number that, by western standards, may seem small, but thanks to which farmers have managed to go from $ 1,000 in annual profits to 3,000-5,000, according to Kuhn.
Cultivate agrarian knowledge
In addition to rehabilitating arable land destroyed and abandoned after years of conflict and mine clearance, the other great challenge for organizations working in Afghanistan has been to educate and learn from local farmers. “The war has lasted 27 years, a whole generation,” says Kuhn. “A common situation is that the father has been killed, and now the son must take charge of continuing with the vineyards.
We are talking about a person who was perhaps five years old when the war began, and now he is trying to collect the fruits of what his father cultivated on earth. He knows that he has to follow certain steps, but he is not sure of anything with certainty.”
Roots of Peace and other organizations work to recover this knowledge and introduce new suitable agricultural techniques, also offering all the information available to farmers. This is a great job for the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, which is now creating an information system in its own local language with the support of the University of California. “We have a directory of extensions that reaches farmers and informs them about new technologies, how to avoid pests and fight against diseases, or about new crop variations,” says Qaem.
However, the expert warns that traditional conditions and methods always have to be taken into account: “For example, there were a couple of cases in which it was tried to introduce foreign machinery, but its use did not turn out to be very efficient because of the land, or simply because farmers did not accept it.” He adds that the government has big plans to continue improving the country’s agricultural system, particularly in the area of post-harvest activities. For example, a network of cold storage units would help farmers keep the fruits of their labor always fresh.
Even so, problems with mines, corruption, troop withdrawals and insurgency threats could slow the road. Farmers who work with the government and NGOs continue to be targets of threats, and therefore it is still dangerous to travel to certain areas of the country. These are challenges that the nation faces, but they are also ours.
Boustan Sabz is the first innovative Agriculture Company in Afghanistan. The company was established in 2007 and has quickly risen to be the premier FF&V Company in Afghanistan. We are committed to the development of Afghan agriculture through improved domestic standardization and commercial exports worldwide. Boustan Sabz operates a 4000 square meter pack house, from which 10000Kg of FF&V is shipped daily. Additionally, it maintains a 200 hectares experimental-demonstration farm for the testing of seed varieties, with improved methods and modern technologies.
Boustan Sabz also maintains a farm training campus that focuses on the training of Afghan growers, to develop their skills and the wholesale improvement of the quality of Afghan agriculture products. Hundreds of growers attend our monthly training events, utilizing the 40,000 fruit trees, 40 green houses, 5,0000 grape vines and vegetable fields on the farm.