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A total of 1 805 villages covering 327 districts in all 32 provinces were monitored. (Two districts were not included due to adverse weather conditions and insecurity.) The survey covered information on farming systems, horticulture crops, and the occurrences of natural disasters and manmade calamities. Questionnaires also focused on farm size, farm power, landless families, crop management, and irrigation sources. The analysis was conducted taking into account the different sections outlined in the questionnaires (D1, D2, D3, D4) and grouped according to selected queries (see Annex II).

General village and rural family information

For each village surveyed, information was collected on the number of farming families and the relative number of landless families sustaining their livelihood through land rent. Information was also collected on the altitude of the village, such as lowland or mountainous area, as well as on the collocation of the agriculture system in a well-defined agro-climatic area.

According to the total villages monitored, 89 percent of all families were rural farming families (128 407). Ninety-one percent of all the families interviewed own their own land.

The areas near big cities and in districts close to the country’s borders show a higher number of families renting land because of the availability of alternative job opportunities for the landowners and the emigration of land tenants.

Occurrence of natural disasters and manmade calamities

The importance of the incidence, type, and impact of natural disasters and manmade calamities from 1999 to 2002 and their relationship to horticultural practices (see Figure 6) were assessed. Monitoring was performed with the assistance of international and non-governmental humanitarian organizations.

Irrigation systems

The situation of the present irrigation system was assessed and the main problems in relation to water deficiency were addressed. Farm power was also monitored, as well as the extent to which it can be a limiting factor to crop production development.

Fifty percent of the farmers irrigate their crops; however, due to four consecutive years of drought, 80 percent of the farmers in the traditionally rainfed areas of the north were forced to irrigate their lands.

Farm power

The results show striking evidence of a very severe deficit in farm power and machinery (see Figure 7), which greatly limits crop production development and efforts to rehabilitate the land.

FIGURE 6. Natural disasters and manmade calamities affecting fruit and vegetables in Afghanistan (1997-2002)

FIGURE 7. Farm power in Afghanistan (spring 2003)

Land use in horticulture and crop management

The proportion of irrigated and rainfed arable land being used for growing horticultural crops and its prospects for horticultural crop production development were analysed.

On average, 13 percent of total arable land area (both irrigated and rainfed) was used for horticultural crop cultivation, of which 6.3 percent was cultivated for orchards and 6.7 percent for vegetable crops (including potato). Only 25 percent of the irrigated land was used for horticultural crop cultivation.

Horticultural crops therefore continue to play an increasing role in the rural economy. Periurban districts showed a higher percentage of land used for horticultural crop cultivation than did rural areas.

Cultivation of vegetables

The total area of vegetable crops grown in each of the selected villages and cultivation preferences of vegetable species, both for home consumption and market purposes, were included. Special emphasis was also given to queries on aspects of crop management such as pests, diseases and fertilization applications, and on horticultural constraints.


The survey yielded the following findings:

  • Afghan farmers presently focus more on short-cycle crops that can produce immediate income such as vegetables, rather than on fruit orchards, due primarily to the uncertain socio-economic situation.

  • Only villages in Laghman Province (23.4 percent) used plastic tunnels for early vegetable crop production.

  • Sixty-six percent of the farmers used chemical fertilizers, 9 percent used manure, and 78 percent controlled pests and diseases. Farmers make a much greater use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on vegetable crops than on fruit orchards, reflecting the recent trend of farmers choosing to invest in a vegetable crop production that can guarantee an almost immediate and more reliable income.

  • Only a limited number of villages use "improved" vegetable seeds. While the farmers are familiar with these seeds from local varieties, in most cases, the varietal purity is very poor.

  • The first and most relevant problem encountered in and associated with horticultural crop management was lack of irrigation water (Figure 12). The second was the prevalence of diseases, followed by insect damages, a lack of improved vegetable seeds and fruit varieties, insufficient marketing facilities and the need for farmers’ cooperatives.

  • As Figures 8 and 9 show, in descending order, the top six vegetable crops grown nationally are watermelon (123 000 jeribs or 22 600 ha), the most frequently grown vegetable in eight provinces, followed by honeydew melon (73 000 jeribs or 14 600 ha), onions, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots. Other vegetables with a limited area of cultivation were turnips, (with less than 9 500 jeribs or 1 900 ha) and pumpkin (with about 6 500 jeribs or 1 300 ha), which ranked seventh and eighth, respectively.

  • Farming communities lack awareness of the technical and economic advantages of growing and consuming a diversified range of vegetable products in order to increase farm income and improve the nutritional status of their families.

  • Where water is available, Afghanistan has both an excellent climate for growing all kinds of vegetable crops and considerable potential to promote vegetable crop production.

  • The data indicates that honeydew melon is very common in Farah, Zabul, Uruzgan and Baghlan Provinces, and is widely spread elsewhere. Onions are largely grown in Kapisa, Nangarhar, Kunar, Badakhsan, Logar and Kandahar, and potatoes in Ghor, Nimroz, Parwan and Bamyan. Beans are the main crop cultivated in Nuristan, followed by potatoes.

  • Farmers demonstrate the most diversity in their vegetable cultivation in Nangarhar, Kabul and Hirat Provinces.

MAP 11. The most common vegetables grown in the provinces

FIGURE 8. Vegetable species with more than 2 500 jeribs (500 ha) in the monitored villages (spring 2003)

FIGURE 9. Vegetable species with less than 2 500 jeribs (500 ha) in the monitored villages (spring 2003)

FIGURE 10. Fruit species (excluding grape) with more than 1 000 jeribs (200 ha) in the monitored villages (spring 2003)

FIGURE 11. Fruit species with less than 1 000 jeribs (200 ha) in the monitored villages (spring 2003)

Fruit crop production

The status of fruit crop production by species was assessed, future production trends evaluated and further support requirements identified. The level of the most basic orchard management practices was examined as well as the possibilities for their improvement.

Findings of the survey are as follows:

  • The country analysis (data of all villages analysed) showed that grape, followed by apples and almonds, pomegranates and apricots represent the highest percentage of orchard area for fruit species (see Figures 10,11).

  • Grapes are the major cultivated fruit species in more than 15 provinces, representing 48 percent of the country.

  • Apple is the most cultivated crop in Wardak as well as in four other provinces.

  • Almond is the fruit tree farmer’s first choice in Uruzgan Province.

  • Pomegranates with their valuable native varieties are commonly grown in Balkh, Nimroz and Kapisa Provinces.

  • Mulberries are mainly grown in Badghis.

  • Nangarhar is the sole province where farmers grow subtropical trees due to the favourable climatic conditions and to its proximity to Pakistan.

  • Orange trees are the most common fruit crop in Nangarhar.

  • Data on ages of tree, including those from 0-10 years old and those older than 10 years old, show a moderately high incidence of fruit orchards younger than 10 years old (58 percent). These figures indicate an encouraging, positive trend of fruiticulture despite Afghanistan’s recent instability, which certainly did not favour the establishment of new orchards or the flourishing of market opportunities. This also means that the Afghan farmer considers fruit a vital part of the country’s traditions as well as a major crop in the daily diet.

  • It is particularly difficult to estimate the actual land area covered by orchards throughout the country due to how some fruit species are grown. Most fruit trees are inaccessible, placed extensively in marginal areas such as along irrigation canals and in home backyards enclosed by walls. Therefore, it is extremely difficult and subjective to estimate the actual number of trees. Nonetheless, an estimate of the number of trees per jerib and ha was included in the questionnaire.

MAP 12. The most fruit species grown (number of trees and jeribs) by province

MAP 13. Area (jeribs) surveyed and covered with horticultural crops by province

Status of production of the main grown fruit species

In general, the domestic fruit market is very restricted by current economic instability, limited security, harsh climate, water scarcity, and poor roads, which impede market accessibility. The domestic market for dry fruits, on the other hand, is quite active, because the product is not perishable and can be easily transported and marketed despite poor roads.


In the 327 districts surveyed, grape cultivation is the primary fruit species being produced in the country, accounting for 48 percent of the total fruit-growing area. However, these figures fluctuate significantly from district to district. In most districts, grapes are not cultivated for commercial purposes, but mainly for family self-consumption. This is because grape production is specifically affected by low yield, low local market demand, difficult market accessibility and market disadvantages. Further, due to unstable market prices and a dramatic reduction of grape drying houses, many farmers are obliged to sell their production of fresh grapes in a predetermined period of the season.

The country has indigenous grape genetic resources of excellent quality that are cultivated almost everywhere. The core of the local varieties collection is in selected nucleus nurseries and research stations. The production of seedless grape varieties (called "kismish"), which are dried for the raisin export market, is still common, especially in the southern region. Unfortunately, this activity was badly affected during war with the destruction of a large number of grape drying houses ("kismish khanas"). As a consequence, many farmers are selling their produce as fresh grapes but with minimal benefit, since local fresh markets are saturated at the time of grape harvesting.

In addition, the average grape yield fluctuates greatly and most of the production is now reduced to subsistence production. The low yield is mostly due to the traditional growing practices as well as farmers’ reluctance to invest in a crop that does not produce a reliable source of income.

Most vineyards are irrigated and grown using the tree training system, and in the case of the espalier system, pruning is not practised regularly. In some cases, the vines lie against an earth embankment, which inclines at about 35 to 40 degrees. This produces a saw-tooth series of alleys and the vines lie on the supporting slope. Moreover, grapes vines are grown on old trees, using them as natural supports; in the few cases where artificial supports are used, they are generally not renewed. The result is a low yield (generally from 9 000 to 18 000 kg/ha in the main grape growing areas) and poor quality.

In the case of green grapes production, there is usually a raisin-drying house in the centre of the vineyard. This structure is made out of mum bricks and has lattice curtain walls to allow adequate ventilation for the drying of the fruit. When the raisins are harvested, they are placed on bamboo trellises to dry inside the house. Those raisins that fall to the ground are taken outside and dried on the mud floor, becoming the red raisins that make up the bulk of the processed raisins exported. The traditional drying technique takes 60 days to produce a raisin. However, if the grapes were dipped in a solution of potassium carbonate, the drying time could be reduced to 8 days.


Afghanistan has proven favourable climatic conditions for the production of apple trees. Apples are still an important fruit in the country despite conditions limiting the domestic market. The more accessible areas and local markets have heavy competition from imported fruits from Iran and Pakistan. Nevertheless, cultivation is still widespread and mainly aimed at satisfying the small rural local markets and the farmers’ subsistence production. The current apple production in the country largely depends on the few exotic varieties imported 20 years ago.


The cultivation of apricots is oriented towards local varieties, which Afghan farmers traditionally consider more valuable than the imported (exotic) cultivars. The quality of these varieties is excellent; some even better than the Mediterranean commercial cultivars in terms of taste and resistance to pest and diseases.

Production is very common but crop management is poor. Most of the trees left after the drought and the long conflict did not receive care, thus resulting in low yields and poor quality. In spite of these constraints, apricots are certainly one of the most promising fruit species with the highest future potential for development due to the farmers’ familiarity with their cultivation, the excellent quality of indigenous genetic resources, and easy to dry characteristics of their varieties. There is a good potential in increasing the value-added aspects of the product through improved production, processing and marketing practices.

MAP 14. Number of jeribs of grape by province

MAP 15. Provinces with the highest apple area (in jeribs)

MAP 16. Number of almond trees (local varieties) in the stock plant block of private nurseries


Afghanistan farmers grow many almond landraces of excellent quality, both hard shell and soft shell, which have an excellent potential for the export market. In addition, the favourable agro-climatic conditions of the country are ideal for the development of almond production in a wider number of districts. At present, almond production is mainly concentrated in Uruzgan, Kunduz, Balkh, Saripul and Kandahar Provinces.


Afghanistan can be considered the country of the pomegranate fruit, not only because of the traditional cultivation of this species, but also because of the excellent quality of the landraces grown. In fact, the local varieties grown in the main production area of Kandahar Province (4 032 jeribs or 806 ha) are known for their high quality and productivity. Farmers reported average yields ranging from about 1 720 kg/jerib (344/ha) in Dand District to more than 3 800 kg/jeribs (760 kg/ha) in Arghandab District. Farah Province is also well known for pomegranate production and the high quality of its fruits, as indicated in the targeted villages by the survey (1 097 jeribs or 219 ha). Pomegranate ranks second as its main fruit crop.


Although peaches can be easily grown in a number of districts, the development of commercial orchards remains limited due to its fragile and perishable nature that makes it difficult to market. The main provinces for peach production are Takhar and Ghor.

Orchard management practices

Queries in the survey also examined the most common orchard management practices. In this respect, the interviewed fruit growers gave indicative responses related to their problems (Figure 12).

Forest trees

Eucalyptus, poplar and wild pistachio trees are very common in the higher areas of northern Afghanistan. However, few farmers are growing forest trees for market purposes, with the exception of Bamyan Province, which has the highest rate of poplar tree cultivation at the village level, with a total of 215 jeribs (43 ha).

Information on sources of vegetable seeds and planting materials

The survey collected information on sources of vegetable seeds and planting materials, the availability of planting material in the local markets and all possible constraints related to seed security and to the supply of good quality seeds. These results were ascertained:

FIGURE 12. Main problems of Afghan farmers (in percentage of responses) related to crop management (spring 2003)

FIGURE 13. Seed sources in Afghanistan (spring 2003)

FIGURE 14. Importance (in percentage of responses) of local varieties in Afghanistan (spring 2003)

FIGURE 15. Marketing trends: comparison of the Horticulture Survey 1996 with the Survey of the Horticulture Sector 2003

Marketing horticultural crops

Farmers’ access to markets

Figure 15 shows where Afghan farmers sell their own horticultural products in 2003. To have an indication of the trend in farmers marketing their crops, responses from the previous National Horticulture Survey 1996 have been compared to this Survey of the Horticulture Sector 2003. Data on the kind of markets used are shown in Figure 16.

There is a great disparity from district to district depending on whether the markets are in remote areas or close to cities or borders. In most cases, farmers in remote areas market their products at the village level. Farmers often contracted their crops to traders. In the case of fruit crops and some vegetable crops like potato, the crop is often contracted before harvesting, based on an estimate of the yield, and the trader takes care of the harvesting and packaging processes. In this case, farmers have a very limited bargaining power and cannot effectively estimate the actual yield of their crops. Once the contractual agreement has been made with the trader, the farmer tends to pay little heed to the management of his crops. Such practices are explained by the poorly developed marketing system and most farmers’ lack of transport facilities to carry products to the district or provincial level markets.

It is more common for farmers from peri-urban districts to market their products themselves, because they have access to transport and are in a better position to negotiate with different traders and wholesalers. However, these negotiations always take place on an individual basis between the farmer and traders; hence, an individual farmer always has limited bargaining power against a group of traders.

Farmers from cross-border districts have a better opportunity to export their products themselves at a better price, but it appears that they do not take full advantage of this comparative geographical advantage. This may be due to the absence of transport and the lack of farmer organizations to market their products (e.g. growers’ associations or cooperatives).

Handling, packaging and marketing practices

There is no packaging standard for horticultural products in Afghanistan. However, packaging is a very crucial issue because most horticultural products are fragile and highly perishable.

Survey results show that an average of 49 percent of the villages pack their horticultural products in jute bags (mostly for tubers, roots and bulb vegetables), which shows an increase of 10 percent over the 1996 survey (38 percent); 36 percent are packed in crates (mostly for fruit species and vegetables); and 15 percent in baskets (mostly pomegranate and leafy vegetables).

Packaging of the produce to minimize damage and maximize presentation is not really considered. Consequently, the depth and volume of transport containers are often inappropriate, causing severe bruising of produce. Straw is often used as packing material and tinsel as decoration for the top of the crate. If packaging requirements were properly understood and addressed, spoilage would be substantially reduced. However, cardboard packaging is not readily available in rural areas, so their best option is wooden crates, especially during travel on rough roads. Produce quality can be improved in how the fruit is cushioned in the crates and in keeping the crates cool on their journey to the market.

Considering the poor roads, packaging quality is of paramount importance for horticultural products. Poor roads and the lack of adequate packaging materials are factors limiting the market development of fragile horticultural products such as peach, pear, plum, cherry and tomato.

FIGURE 16. Kinds of markets used by the Afghan villages (spring 2003)

FIGURE 17. Various marketing problems cited by Afghan farmers in marketing their horticultural crops (spring 2003) (in percentage of responses)

Marketing problems of horticultural products

The problems met by farmers in marketing their horticultural products are important indicators in assessing the status of the sector as a whole (see Figure 17).

The lack of growers’ associations and cooperatives makes it difficult for farmers to negotiate with traders on a fair bargaining basis. As indicated by Figure 17, 22 percent of farmers attribute the most important problem to limited bargaining power and 12 percent to middlemen.

Another serious constraint recorded during the survey is the limited availability of market information. As stated in the 1996 survey report, the Export Department of the Ministry of Commerce of Afghanistan used to provide market information to traders and establish export quality criteria. The Agricultural Bank of Afghanistan and some cooperatives also provided market information to farmers. However, these services were disrupted with the war, and nowadays traders and farmers have no access to any kind of centralized market information. Without such information, farmers have little possibility to rationally plan their production. As a result, they often refer to the previous year’s market prices when planning production of a given crop for the next year. This can lead to high volatility in the production and market prices of a given horticultural product from one year to another, and subsequently cause situations of alternating produce gluts and shortages.

FIGURE 18. The most important cash crops in Afghanistan

FIGURE 19. The priority of importance (in terms of percentage of responses) of various Afghan cash crops (spring 2003)

FIGURE 20. Percentage of fruit crops marketed at the village level (spring 2003) (Total crop area per province > 5 ha)

FIGURE 21. Percentage of vegetable crops marketed at the village level (spring 2003) (Total crop area per province > 5 ha)

The most common horticultural cash crops

This enquiry was included in the questionnaire to crosscheck the data gathered on horticulture crops. The farmers ranked the most important crops in relation to cash income and market opportunities.

For vegetables, potato ranks as the most profitable, followed by watermelon, tomato and onion. For fruits, grapes followed by apricots, almonds and apples are the most important cash crops (see Figure 18).

The crops mentioned are also in line with the data gathered on the most commonly cultivated horticultural crops in the country (see Figure 19).

The average percentage of fruit production marketed by farmers indicates that grape is the most important crop, followed by almonds, pistachio, mulberry, walnut, apricot, peach and plums. Apple, with almost 50 percent being marketed, is also an important marketed product (see Figure 20).

Concerning vegetables, honeydew melons, watermelons and potatoes are the most marketable with more than 60 percent of production marketed at the village level. Data indicated that beans, onions, okras and carrots are also marketed in large quantities (see Figure 21).






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