Economy

With Taliban ousted, Nangarhar farmers eye profits from new fruit orchards

By Khalid Zerai

Parcels of land in Nangarhar Province once controlled by the Taliban will be developed into fruit orchards, allowing area farmers to improve their livelihood while halting the production of poppy, local authorities say. [Khalid Zerai]

NANGARHAR -- Parcels of land in Nangarhar Province once controlled by the Taliban will be developed into fruit orchards, allowing area farmers to improve their livelihood while decreasing the production of poppy, local authorities say.

The Nangarhar Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL) plans to develop fruit orchards on 260 hectares of land during the ongoing solar year in six districts of Nangarhar that were previously insecure.

According to the department, farmers were previously forced to cultivate poppy for the Taliban, who use the sale of illegal narcotics derived from the plant such as heroin to fund their militancy.

"We will develop orchards on 260 hectares of land this year in Rodat, Chaparhar, Sherzad, Khogyani, Achin and Kot districts," said Nangarhar DAIL Director Dr. Zamir Behsudi. "These districts were previously insecure, so they had not received much attention. In order to ensure balanced growth of agriculture across the province, we will develop orchards bearing different fruits in those districts."

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Workers collect oranges in Bati Kot District, Nangarhar Province, last December 19. [Khalid Zerai]

"Development of these orchards will be funded through the development budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) with fruits suitable to the climate in each district," Behsudi said.

Currently, Nangarhar Province has more than 600 hectares of orchards of different fruits, according to Behsudi.

Improved income

Local farmers welcomed the government initiative, saying the switch to fruit cultivation will improve their livelihoods.

"The Taliban used to control this area. They would force us to cultivate poppy as it would serve their interests," said Rahim Shah, a resident of Khogyani District.

"We are now very happy as these areas are secured," the 38-year-old added. "DAIL is helping me develop a 0.2 hectare orange orchard. After having seen other orchards, I am sure that I will have a better income from this farm than I used to get from poppies."

"We used to live in dire economic conditions in which we could not even have three meals a day," he said. "There was no government and therefore no life. But we are happy now that those difficult days are behind us."

"We will have a life, and in addition to wheat and maize, in two years we will be able to have fruit orchards from which we will make a good income," Shah said, adding that he hopes the government will help other farmers develop fruit orchards so that they can improve their livelihood as well.

Haji Gulabuddin, a resident of Surkh Rod District who cultivates onions on his land, said he now sees the value of cultivating fruit, especially now that troops have secured the area from the Taliban.

"My brother developed orchards on 0.4 hectare of land, which had yields last year," he said. "We used to discourage him, arguing that it would not be profitable. But now I see that he sold hundreds of thousands of afghanis' worth of apricots from a 0.2-hectare piece of land."

"Now I also want to develop fruit orchards," he said. "Thanks to improved security, now we can focus on our livelihoods."

Ajmal Omar, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, called on the government to expand the fruit-orchard programme now that the Taliban have been cleared from the area.

"These six districts were insecure in the past, and farmers were working in very difficult conditions," he said. "We ask DAIL to expand the development of orchards and to take active measures in providing seeds and fertilisers to farmers."

"I am from Sherzad District, where there has been no progress in the agriculture sector because it was totally under Taliban control. Now that it has become safer, we ask the government to pay more attention to agriculture here," Omar said.

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Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Afghanistan should provide more aids to the farmers, as more than 70 percent of Afghans are busy working in farming, agriculture, gardening and livestock, and ensure their livelihood this way. Over the past two decades, the government has not paid much attention to agriculture, gardening, livestock, poultry and etc. If the government had paid attention to this area, security would not have been so worse now, and people, especially youths, would not have been deceived by the government's armed dissidents due to unemployment and would not have joined the ranks of Taliban and other terrorist groups. Why are most of the government dissidents from the villages and rural areas of Afghanistan and they don’t have residents of the cities in their ranks? Because people of the cities are busy at work. They keep shops; some of them work as tailors, carpenters, shoemakers and do other professions. The only way to bring security to Afghanistan is to create jobs. If job opportunities are provided for the youths, security will get restored in this country.

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It is a good achievement and thank you very much for publishing information on such developmental projects. My suggestion is that such orchards may better not be built on the agricultural lands which are used for cultivating other crops, but instead it would be better to dig tube wells, or direct water canals to the deserts and the orchards get developed. On one hand, the existing agricultural land will be saved, and on the other hand, other desert lands of the country will be developed. When looked from the aircraft, one can compare the developed land to the undeveloped land and it seems that there is only 1 kg stone in a square km land, meaning that almost the whole country is undeveloped, so do not occupy the agricultural lands with the orchards, but instead develop other lands. Thanks.

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The government should help the farmers in Afghanistan and provide them with modified seeds in order to improve the economy of the people. The government should pay special attention to the farmers of Nangarhar province. Because Nangarhar province has good climate; therefore different types of fruits are grown there, which are not grown in other provinces. And after food, eating fruit is very useful for the humans because all the vitamins are found in fruits. Therefore, if we have different kinds of fruits in our country, our traders will no longer need to import fruit from Pakistan. All Pakistani gates are now closed due to the Corona disaster, and fruit prices in the cities of the country have been skyrocketed. The price of a single lemon in the country has risen to 80 Afghani. The price of one kilogram of tangerine has risen to 150 Afghani. Poor people can't afford purchasing it, while eating fruit increases the body's resistance against disease, especially corona disease. Therefore, a lot of work needs to be done in the agriculture sector of the country. We have organic soil, but the government, especially the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, has no good plans to improve the condition of agriculture in the country. Although Afghanistan is an agricultural country, 80% of our agricultural products are imported from foreign countries.

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