Bleak forecast for agriculture

Agricultural production will see no major increase in 2009 and Afghanistan will continue to rely on external assistance and food imports, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.



"Adverse weather, limited supplies and high food prices," combined with worsening insecurity, are considered to have adversely affected agriculture, according to FAO's Crop Prospects and Food Situation report published in December. 



Elsewhere in the world - particularly in Africa, Europe and Central America - cereal production will see a significant increase which will bode well for millions of food-insecure people around the world, as wheat and maize prices continue to decline, FAO forecasts.



"In the first two weeks of December, the prices for wheat and coarse grains averaged respectively 40 percent and 20 percent less than the December average last year," the organisation said.



In Afghanistan, however, prices have remained relatively high, making it difficult for over eight million food-insecure people to eat properly.



The price of one kilogram of wheat in Kabul was about 40 Afghanis (about 80 US cents) in December, compared to 0.23 cents in the USA, the FAO report says.



Shortage of seed



Severe drought has reduced domestic agricultural production by up to 40 percent. Afghanistan faces a shortfall of 2.3 million tonnes of food in 2008-2009, FAO has estimated.



The country needs over six million tonnes of cereals for domestic consumption a year, but produced only about 3.5 million tonnes in 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) said.



"There are about 2.5 million farmers in the country and they need some 250,000 tonnes of wheat seed for cultivation annually," Fazluddin Fazl, director of agriculture promotion at the MAIL, told IRIN on 21 December.



Farmers and aid workers have already voiced concern about the lack of certified seeds for cultivation.



"I have nothing to plant… I lost my seeds in the drought," said a farmer in the northern province of Faryab, adding that some farming households had also consumed their stocks of wheat seed because of food shortages.



The MAIL said about 20 percent of Afghan farmers in 14 provinces (mostly in drought-affected areas) would receive some kind of assistance, including certified seeds and fertilisers for the next cultivation season.















Photo: Akmal Dawi/ IRIN
Afghanistan has the potential to become an exporter of food and fruits, experts say

Agricultural potential




Three decades of conflict have severely damaged irrigation and farming infrastructure, making it largely dependent on food imports, primarily from neighbouring Pakistan.



"Of the eight million hectares of arable land in the country, less than 50 percent is usually cultivated," said Fazl, citing lack of water and implements as the main problems.



Experts say Afghanistan has strong potential to become an exporter of food, including fruit, if donors invested generously in agricultural development projects and supported farmers. The country has vast areas of arable land, fertile soil, ample water resources and a large rural farming community, all of which can contribute to robust agricultural production, they say.



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