AFGHANISTAN: Agriculture Ministry calls for US$2.5 billion aid programme
Afghanistan can eliminate illicit opium poppy cultivation and ensure national food-security if donors provide $2.5 billion aid, officials say
KABUL, 7 May 2008 (IRIN) - Afghanistan could double its domestic agricultural production, ensure nationwide food-security and eliminate poppy cultivation if international donors were to provide US$2.5 billion in aid to the agriculture sector between now and 2011, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said.
The government's ambitious agricultural development plan is seeking $100 million in aid in the next few weeks with the aim of boosting 2008 yields of corn and beans (often referred to as the second crop) and vegetables (the third crop).
"We only have about 45 days to support the second and third crops this year. We expect good harvests, which will ease food shortages and support vulnerable farmers," Rahman Habib, an adviser to the ministry, told IRIN in Kabul on 7 May, adding that the deadline for supporting the first crop - wheat - had already passed.
"We need $100 million to immediately procure and distribute 50,000 tonnes of quality seeds, fertilizers and other necessary requirements," said Habib.
"Prompt intervention will increase this year's second and third crops by [a total of] over 300 tonnes," he said.
Afghanistan produced 5.6 million metric tonnes (mt) of cereals (mainly wheat, corn, beans and rice) in 2007. This theoretically represented about 90 percent of its national requirements, but much of it was either smuggled abroad, wasted due to poor quality milling, or hoarded. The government is now planning to increase domestic production by a further 1.2 million mt in two years.
The three-year food-security plan was launched amid concerns about food-insecurity and hunger mostly resulting from soaring food prices.
Up to 70 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million people are considered food-insecure by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and millions have recently been pushed into "high risk" food-insecurity because of high food prices, aid agencies reported.
Bringing arid land into cultivation
Years of turmoil have adversely affected the agricultural infrastructure, particularly irrigation systems. About two-thirds of farmland requires irrigation
. This rendered the landlocked country largely dependent on food imports and pushed millions of Afghans into extreme poverty.
Agriculture is the primary source of income for over 70 percent of Afghans but it has largely been overlooked in rebuilding and development efforts since 2001, aid agencies such as Oxfam International say.
The Agriculture Ministry said it was determined to revive agriculture through short-and-long-term programmes which would require generous and timely donor funding.
"The Ministry of Agriculture is asking for $2.5 billion in aid over the next three years to revive and develop agriculture, eliminate illicit poppy cultivation and ensure national food-security," Obaidullah Ramin, the minister of agriculture, said in a statement on 5 May.
Rebuilding and developing irrigation systems, increasing and improving domestic agriculture production, and supporting poor farmers with the growing of legal crops instead of poppy are the main goals of Afghanistan's food-security and opium poppy elimination plan.
Afghan farmers will be provided with quality seeds, fertilizers and irrigation equipment to cultivate about 450,000 hectares of land currently considered arid in different parts of the country, according to the plan.
Only about 6 percent of Afghanistan’s land is cultivated, and about 15 percent is suitable for farming.
"Afghan farmers on average produce 1.9 tonnes [of cereals] per hectare, while in Pakistan it's four tonnes and in Egypt it's six tonnes; we want to at least attain our neighbours' levels - that's four tonnes per hectare - in the next three years," Rahman Habib said.
Poppy versus wheat
|If farmers cultivate wheat in Afghanistan's over 190,000 hectares of land used for opium poppy the country can become self-sufficient in terms of cereals, the agriculture ministry says|
Afghanistan could produce an additional 700,000 mt of wheat and become self-sufficient in terms of cereals if farmers were to cultivate cereals on about 190,000 hectares of land where they currently cultivate poppy, the ministry said.
"In Helmand Province alone poppy is grown on up to 130,000 hectares of irrigated land. If we were to succeed in cultivating wheat and other legal crops there, we would produce about 520,000 tonnes of wheat and/or other grain," Habib said.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, an average farmer earns $800 from a hectare of poppies and $350 from a hectare of wheat. However, the profit disparity could be dramatically reduced - even to zero - by improving productivity, supporting second and third crops and effectively implementing other development programmes, experts said.
"The fate of Afghanistan hinges on agriculture," said Habib. "It's the key to peace, development, employment, poverty alleviation and many other things in this country."