ROME/KABUL, 18 November 2002 -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is currently distributing around 3 700 tonnes of wheat seeds and around 7 000 tonnes of fertilizers to half a million people in almost all provinces of Afghanistan.

The seeds were distributed to farming families that were severely stricken by conflict and more than three years of drought. The distribution was carried out by 26 local and international non-governmental organizations.

All seeds were purchased from local suppliers participating in the FAO Seed Multiplication Programme. FAO contracted several thousand farmers last year for multiplication of high quality wheat seeds suitable for irrigation and rain-fed agriculture.

"Procuring seeds directly from farmers strengthens local production of high quality seeds and the adoption of new varieties," said Anne M. Bauer, Director of the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division.

"The seed is the best quality available within Afghanistan. The improved seeds are selected and adapted to Afghan conditions, they do not need large amounts of fertilizers or pesticides. The improved varieties are known by the average Afghan farmers and they are more resistant to diseases," Bauer said.

Around 80 000 families received seed kits

Kits of seeds and fertilizers were distributed to around 80 000 poor farming families who cannot buy new agricultural inputs. "The kit they received will not solve all their problems but it is an important contribution to help them restart their food production with high yielding varieties. It will be a first step to produce food for themselves or sell it in the market," Bauer said. "This will help them to break the vicious circle of poverty and indebtedness."

FAO estimates that the cultivation of distributed seeds will amount to around 120 000 tonnes of wheat. The beneficiaries will have to repay for the kits obtained in cash or in kind (wheat). The communities will use the reimbursement for development projects.

The emergency project was funded by Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Switzerland and the United Nations Development Programme with around US$ 4.5 million.

"It should be kept in mind, however, that the current distribution of seeds covers only a small amount of the real needs. The total requirement for quality seeds in Afghanistan is estimated at around 250 000 tonnes per season. This year the production has been estimated at 15 000 tonnes. The Afghan seed production sector is capable of producing much more seeds," Bauer said.

"If we want to help farmers to get out of poverty and produce more food, we need to increase our assistance, extend the seed multiplication programme and improve the marketing and processing of seeds. Currently seed marketing is almost not existent. Our aim is to reach sustainability in seed multiplication and prepare the transition towards privatization and better marketing. Donor support is needed to cover these activities," Bauer said.