Economy

Zabul farmers see growth of income following government's help

By Raziq Kandahari

Local businesspeople and farmers in Zabul Province say they have seen a considerable increase in their harvests compared to previous years thanks to the government's support. [Raziq Kandahari]

ZABUL -- Local businesspeople and farmers in Zabul Province say they have seen a considerable increase in their harvests compared to previous years thanks to the government's support.

Still, they say, the Taliban's continued violence in some areas is hampering widespread development.

Late last year and at the beginning of this year, the Zabul Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock provided pesticides to farmers whose harvests had been damaged for years, said Muhammad Fazal Karim, 43, a farmer in Qalat, the provincial capital.

"This year, we got rid of pests that affected our grapevines and almond trees, and we saw a 50% growth of our harvests and revenues," he said.

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Zabul farmer Muhammad Sediq Kalatwal, 51, is seen working on his farm October 17 in Qalat. [Raziq Kandahari]

"In Zabul, 95% of the population are farmers, but they haven't learned any new [techniques] because of conflicts," said Karim. "Because of the war, we don't have access to necessary facilities that other countries take for granted. We call on the government and the Taliban to stop fighting and killing each other."

More training, more profits

Muhammad Sediq Kalatwal, 51, who has fig and apple orchards, credited the government's support for a boost in his harvests.

"I am happy this year because my apple and fig harvests have increased several-fold thanks to support from the government, especially the Department of Agriculture," he said. "I was able to sell my products in the market at reasonable prices and earned 900,000 AFN ($11,660) in profit."

"All this happened as 14 other farmers and I received a month-long training in orchard management and planting fruit trees, and we learned some fundamental skills," Kalatwal said. "The Department of Agriculture ... also provided us with medicine to treat some [plant] diseases."

"During fig and apple planting season, the extension workers from the Department of Agriculture monitored my orchards and gave me essential tips that helped improve our harvests," he said. "As a farmer, I'm thankful to my government as it always has provided services and facilities to its people."

"I can say this with confidence: If we'd had full security, we could have seen even a further increase in our harvests," he said. "We often can't work in our orchards because of conflicts and land mines."

"I call on the Taliban to stop fighting for God's sake as the 20-year-long war hasn't brought any benefit and the people are unhappy," said Kalatwal.

Addressing the militants, he said: "Come join the development process in your country and earn a legitimate income so that other Afghans are not affected by your actions."

Exporting Afghan products

In addition to helping local farmers grow their crops and teaching them new essential farming skills, the Zabul Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, together with other agencies, has helped Afghan traders export their products abroad.

Inayatullah Tokhi, 38, who grows pomegranate and almond trees on his 22 jeribs (4.4 hectares) of land, has seen a tripling of his revenues thanks to the government's help.

"I experienced many troubles in past years because I incurred losses as my harvests often didn't sell, and they rotted at the market," he said. "But this year, I shared my problems with the departments of agriculture, economy and commerce. They helped me greatly in marketing my products."

"My annual revenue in previous years was between 20 and 23 million AFN ($260,000 and $300,000), which couldn't cover our costs, but I'm grateful to God that this year my revenues increased to 60 million AFN ($780,000)," he said.

Tokhi credited his higher earnings to his newfound ability to sell his produce in Pakistan and India, where they commanded prices four times higher than in the local market.

Still, many farmers are struggling, he said.

"Farmers in my village often can't work on their lands because of violence," he said. "This war has adversely affected the economy, agriculture and livelihoods of many people."

"We are very fortunate that our harvests went up threefold because of technical and financial support from Zabul Department of Agriculture, and fruits from Zabul have reached international markets," said Ali Muhammad Niazi, a dried fruit trader from Shahr-e-Safa District who exports fresh and dried fruit.

"Previously, we sold 7kg of [dried] fig for 2,000 AFN ($26), but this year, we were able to sell 7kg of the fig for 5,000 to 6,000 AFN ($65-78) in Pakistan and India," he said.

"Our Afghan products have reached Central Asia, Europe and other countries, earning Afghanistan a good name, but our traders and farmers still face a serious problem," said Niazi. "That is insecurity."

"As an Afghan trader suffering from unrest and violence on a daily basis, I call on the Taliban and government to declare a ceasefire," he said. "I reassure them that if they make peace, all the businesspeople are ready to pay a few times higher taxes for the country's prosperity so that our country can become self-sufficient and get rid of dependence on others."

Taliban must 'stop creating obstacles'

"Last year was full of troubles for Zabul farmers and traders, but fortunately this year the Department of Agriculture established 200 raisin houses, two cold storage units and 12 hectares of new apricot orchards, and distributed seeds and pesticides that helped improve farmers and traders' livelihoods and incomes," said Abdul Hadi Tokhi, director of the Zabul Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

"We restored 15 orchards throughout the districts, distributed a variety of seeds to 400 farmers, and trained 1,024 farmers and orchard owners so that they can properly manage their fields and plant various fruits and vegetables," he said.

"This year, we helped farmers and traders to ship 22,700 tonnes of figs and 45,000 tonnes of raisins and other fruits to the market, and they were sold in Zabul, Kandahar, Kabul and other provinces as well as in Pakistan and India," he said.

"We are ready to provide financial and technical help ... but insecurity and lack of safety for our partners create problems for us," said Tokhi. "We call on the Taliban to stop creating obstacles to our work so that we can help every farming household in Zabul."

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Afghanistan is an agricultural country and almost 70% of Afghans are busy in agricultural works. The Afghan government and foreign donor organizations should provide further assistance to the Afghan farmers, and they should not limit these aids to specific provinces, but instead they should provide it to the farmers of the whole country in order that farmers of the whole country can get advantage of it. This work also plays a constructive role in tightening security of Afghanistan.

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Dear brother, you mentioned a very important point. Most of the aids go to the farmers in the southern provinces, which should not be done so. All the peasants of Afghanistan, from the south to the north, from the east to the west, must be provided with aids so that a balanced development take place throughout Afghanistan and security is ensured in our country. Afghanistan's rural development is essential for Afghanistan's future. For the past twenty years, the Afghan government, donor countries, and America have paid attention to Afghanistan's cities, but have not paid much attention to Afghanistan's rural areas, which has worsened the security situation in rural areas and it turned to a major challenge for the Afghan government. Next year, the government should allocate a special budget for Afghanistan's rural development to alleviate poverty and hunger in the country.

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Government aids with the farmers is highly important. Over the past few years, the aids of agriculture departments with farmers in the provinces of the country have been very useful. The Afghan government should increase these aids with farmers. The departments of agriculture have provided aids to a limited number of farmers, and many of these farmers have not received aid from the government of Afghanistan yet. If the government provides aids to all the peasants of the country, I am sure that people's economy will improve and the lives of the villagers will change. When the condition of the people of the villages and rural areas improves, it will bring security, because one of the main causes of the war in Afghanistan is said to be poverty and unemployment. If the peasants earn good income and the youths are employed, they will not go to Iran for finding labor, nor will they join the ranks of Taliban. Therefore, the nation wants the government to prioritize the living conditions of the poor people and the villagers and provide more aids to the peasants so that our country is saved from poverty and it becomes peaceful.

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