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FAO Press Release 02/01

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Afghanistan's women -- the hidden strength of a war-torn land

Rome/Tokyo, 21 January 2002 - Peace and long-term economic stability in Afghanistan must be built on the restoration of productive agriculture, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today in a statement issued on the occasion of an international donor meeting in Tokyo.

"The shortest path to national stability will be for the rural population to return to their fields and produce the nation's food," FAO said. Some 85 percent of Afghanistan's population is dependent on agriculture, according to the Organization.

FAO said that US$39 million are needed this year to improve access to food in rural and urban areas by increasing food production and generating income by providing basic inputs such as seeds and fertiliser.

The FAO appeal is part of the 'UN Appeal for the Immediate and Transitional Assistance Programme for Afghanistan for 2002', launched at the Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo.

For its short-term emergency activities, FAO is asking for US$18 million for the distribution of seeds and fertiliser, vegetable kits to returnee families, support to livestock through vaccinations and animal feed, emergency preparedness against locust attacks and the establishment of a Food Security Assessment Unit and the coordination of emergency agricultural relief operations.

"The food security situation of the urban and rural population remains bleak," said Anne Bauer, FAO's focal point for Afghanistan. "Autumn planting was seriously jeopardised by drought and military actions. The animals of nomads are unlikely to survive through the winter season due to feed shortages and diseases if not vaccinated in time. Displaced farmers need seeds and fertilisers to restart agriculture. Special attention will have to be given to returnee families and their host communities to facilitate a smooth reintegration process."

For medium-term activities in 2002 FAO requested US$21 million. These development activities will focus on the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes, reforestation, seed multiplication, the promotion of high-value crops to reduce poppy production, veterinary services and integrated pest management.

"FAO will pay special attention to the situation of women," Anne Bauer said. "They are traditionally responsible for food availability, family income, nutrition, health care and education. Moreover, 20 years of civil war have left an estimated half a million households without a male provider. The starting point must be to identify the needs and resources available to women."

"In addition, if we want farmers to give up opium production, they need to have access to alternative crops, to credit and to markets. The fight against poppy production can only be won if we manage to improve the household and community welfare especially in the rural areas."

FAO has already established an Emergency Coordination Unit in Islamabad. After its initial aid appeal in early August, the UN agency received US$6 million from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and the US. The procurement and distribution of seeds is currently underway for the spring planting and animal feed is also being bought.

The Department for International Development of the United Kingdom has allocated US$2.9 million to FAO for an integrated agricultural emergency and development programme in Afghanistan.

Currently FAO has eight international staff based in Islamabad and one in Mazar-e-Sharif. Approximately 40 Afghan nationals are working for FAO inside the country. FAO will soon re-open its office in the common UN premises in Kabul.


For more information please call Erwin Northoff, Media Relations Officer, 0039-06-5705 2232/3105, E-Mail: erwin.northoff@fao.org

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