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The story of Abdul Hamid
Meyanaqad, Afghanistan – Wheat grower Abdul Hamid sips tea in the small stone-and-wood house he built six years ago in this remote village in the central highlands, under the shadow of huge grey mountains.

His former home was burnt to the ground by militia from the Taliban movement, who spread terror through this now-tranquil village.

Reminders of conflict are vivid in this area, from stories like Abdul’s to the smattering of wrecked Soviet tanks left abandoned on the winding dusty road into Bamyan district.

He recalls how many people fled the village and surrounding areas as invading Soviet troops fought with Mujahideen militants from 1979, and later when the Taliban were in power between 1996 and 2001.

Displaying the calm assertiveness that undoubtedly helped him to keep his livelihood afloat amidst the ongoing violence, Abdul speaks now of the hope that is spreading through his village.

“These wars are dangerous of course and have caused many killings, injuries and other problems. The Taliban destroyed our home, which had been my grandfather’s house for many years; I had to build this one from trees and stones with my brothers.

“During those days few vehicles passed through here to transport crops, so I had to walk 15 km to the market to sell wheat or buy food and fuel.

“But now things are better, more peaceful; the economy is slowly improving and if we can produce more crops we will be able to make a better living.”

While this region has become calmer over the past six years, it remains an ongoing battle for farmers like Abdul to live off their land.

But here there are signs of progress too.

Under a major project to boost crop production in Afghanistan, Abdul was approached to try out a new, more disease-tolerant wheat variety known as Solh 2002 on his one jerib (0.2 hectares) of land – and the result was a 50 per cent increase in his yield.

The new variety was distributed as part of phase one of an EU-funded project set up by FAO and the Afghan government to strengthen national seed production.

Abdul takes up the story: “I wanted to try something new as I needed to increase the wheat I had. The latest harvest brought me 1 600 kg of wheat compared with 1 000 kg before, and there was less loss through disease. I am happy with the results; when the war was here, we didn’t have new opportunities like these.

“The wheat makes very good bread, much tastier than before. I sell the rest, and get about US$250 per 1 000 kg of wheat. With the extra money I’ve been able to buy extra fruit and vegetables, as well as rice, which is more expensive.

“Rice is important to us as one bag lasts a long time and it can be stored through the winter.”

The rice also means Abdul’s wife and seven daughters can join other Afghans in enjoying one of the country’s traditional meals of pilaf, made with cooking oil, mutton, raisins and carrots.

His neighbours are also reaping the benefits of the seed, bought from fledgling seed company Bamyan Baastan Enterprise; the project helped set up the company as it encourages local entrepreneurs to go into business, produce quality seed and sell directly to farmers.

In this way the futures of farmers like Abdul and his neighbours can be improved and sustained well in the future by fellow Afghans, not outside providers who may well sell sub-standard or unsuitable seed.

“For the future we would like to cultivate more potato because the cooler temperatures up here make it a key crop. The project has helped us a lot already and now we hope it can bring us better potato seed too.”

On the roads out of the valley, there are further signs of the hope Abdul described, as dozens of children, including four of his daughters, hurry excitedly to schools that did not exist only a decade ago.

Every country’s future depends on its children, none more so than in Afghanistan, where thousands of agricultural experts key to the sector’s development were either killed or driven out of the country by conflict.

“It’s important our children are literate, that they have knowledge, that we teach them properly. It all helps for the future, but ultimately the future depends on God.”

6 August 2007

Read more…

Afghan private sector: engine of development?

The story of Abdul Hamid

Voices of Afghan women

FAO in the danger zone

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Farmer Abdul Hamid (left) discusses his crop with FAO experts.

Audio

Peter Lowrey meets Abdul Hamid in his home, at Bamyan District, where he grows new varieties of wheat and potatoes (3'22") (mp3)

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The project helps test new potato varieties.

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