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,"
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
"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,"
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.