Time for new thinking on rebuilding Afghan agriculture
New book published
17 September 2007, Rome - Efforts to rebuild the rural economy of Afghanistan must start with a better understanding of the country’s complex history, social background and extraordinary resilience of the Afghan people in repeatedly rebuilding their livelihoods.
That is one of the main themes of Reconstructing Agriculture in Afghanistan, a new book co-published by FAO and the British publishing house Practical Action Publishing.
“I hope the book will help inform those involved in humanitarian work, in making decisions that take into account all the factors that shape Afghanistan,” says co-editor Adam Pain. He admits a fascination with a country he first visited in the early 1990s, and about which he has studied and written extensively.
The book is an attempt to advance development theory for fragile states by putting food security at the heart of a twin-track approach that integrates short-term emergency response to longer-term food security interventions for sustainable development.
Clearly the impact of recent history is significant on a country where 85 per cent of people rely on agriculture: destruction of irrigation systems by the Soviet army – an occupying force from 1979-89 – and subsequent migration of rural workers; the emergence of the Taliban; and a countrywide drought that blighted wheat yields as well as livestock, savings and land.
At the same time however, the book argues how brutal state-building of the 19th century and the influence of empires, chiefly Russia and Britain, have all helped shape the agricultural landscape, creating a diverse legacy of different ethnic and regional identities, local economies and administration, self-interest and illicit trade.
Indeed, the book contends, these provincial markets and networks help explain what is described as the “extraordinary resilience” of the Afghan people, in repeatedly rebuilding their livelihoods despite a historical backdrop of disruption and political instability.
As an example of cultural traditions and their impact, one chapter discusses the often-misunderstood role of women in helping shape the agricultural landscape.
“The position of women has been a potent symbol of Afghanistan to the outside world,” says Mr Pain. “There is a perception that women are completely powerless, but women are more powerful and are a lot more economically active than people give them credit for, in agriculture and elsewhere.”
The book also examines the role of the opium trade, which dominates so much debate on the country. Any approach to eradicating the trade needs to take into consideration local economies and power structures, where limited access to land and credit have left many farmers with little or no alternative to opium cultivation.
Development initiatives are taking place across the country, including an FAO project helping villagers set up their own businesses providing high-quality seed to farmers, and another developing a national agricultural information network that tracks food pricing, crop yields and weather warnings.
The book stresses that it is through long-term planning and good government, local and national, that Afghanistan can push forward, while education is also crucial.
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