Afghan Wheat Harvest Will Be Best in 20 Years

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 28, 2003 (ENS): Afghani farmers have produced their largest wheat harvest in recent memory, according to Serge Verniau, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Kabul.

In a July 24 statement, Verniau said, "This is a very encouraging development considering that the country suffered greatly from armed conflicts and a four year drought."

"We are expecting that the harvest will amount to more than four million tonnes," he said. "The country will still need to import an estimated one million tonnes," of wheat Verniau predicted.

"I would say that FAO's emergency activities, such as the delivery of seeds, fertilizers and tools and the successful control of potentially damaging locust outbreaks in the North, contributed to this success," Verniau added.

Production of opium poppies has increased by almost 20 percent compared to last year, Verniau said. The possibilities of introducing alternatives to poppy production such as the rehabilitation of fruit tree nurseries and vegetable seed production exist, but poppy production offers income and employment opportunities. "It will take time to build credible alternatives. In addition, the conditions for law enforcement and controls have to be created," said Verniau.

Around 85 percent of the Afghani people depend on agriculture. Chronic undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency disorders continue to be a major problem in Afghanistan, according to the FAO spokesman. Particularly hard hit are small children, women, refugees and people in remote mountain areas.

"The diets of many people are unbalanced," Verniau said. "They lack energy, but most often variety. The diets are poor in micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron and iodine. There are also pockets of scurvy due to vitamin C deficiency affecting people in the northern mountains during winter months."

Poverty is still widespread in the country and people have no access to a nutritious diet, or cannot afford it. They often live just on bread and tea, small quantities of milk and yogurt and some legumes. The intake of fruits, vegetables and meat is still very low. People are not starving, but diets are not rich enough for children to grow and to develop mentally and for adults to be productive, Verniau said.

The situation of Afghan livestock farmers has not really improved. The outbreaks of livestock diseases such as foot and mouth disease are still occurring and pose a "serious threat" to neighboring countries, the FAO says.

"It is clear that without a sound animal health strategy run by farmers and livestock agencies, livestock production could remain low and constrained by disease. FAO will run a livestock vaccination campaign to keep the worst outbreaks in selected areas under control," Verniau said.

The FAO has undertaken a countrywide livestock census to get a clear picture about how many farm animals remain after the conflict and drought in Afghanistan and under what conditions farmers are producing. This is the first census for many years.

The FAO has received fresh funding commitments from donors but is still facing a gap of $10 to 15 million to provide a comprehensive program of rehabilitation of agriculture in the coming months. The European Commission, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK are the main donors.

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