ALEPPO, SYRIA and KABUL, AFGHANISTAN
21 May 2002 Seven top-level members of an Afghan Interim Administration delegation met in Syria this week to discuss ways to revive Afghanistan's economy through agricultural research, on-the-ground relief, education, and extension programs directly involving farmers.
The meetingheld 9- to 16-May and hosted by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), a Future Harvest Center based in Aleppo, Syriafocused on accelerating Afghanistan's economic rehabilitation efforts through agriculture, the country's largest and most important economic sector.
"At ICARDA, we talked about farming extension," said H.E. Mohammad Sharif, interim deputy minister of agriculture for Afghanistan in a telephone interview following the meeting. "All of the infrastructure in Afghanistan has collapsed," said Sharif. "Afghan officials have seen and visited research-trial fields, learned about new methods of production, and will adapt what was learned to fields and research laboratories in Afghanistan."
Briefings and field visits in Syria followed on successful efforts through the Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan to distribute wheat seeds to 65,000 farmers in time for this spring's planting season.
"Our vision is to rebuild Afghanistan," said Sharif. Twenty-three years of war, and more than three years of drought have destroyed the basis for agriculture in Afghanistan, he added, and the Consortium is providing improved wheat seeds, knowledge to fight animal and plant disease, and help with soil and water conservation and re-establishment of horticultural crops.
In Afghanistan, 85 percent of the people are engaged in agriculture. Progress on the ground is largely driven by farmers working with the government to renew agricultural vitality in a war-torn landscape. Sharif added, "We have the participation of farmers, who are assisting in distributing seed."
Working with farmers is essential in implementing the development program and a significant percentage of these farmers are women, noted Sharif. And the consortium is "actively engaging women in the project's agricultural activities."
The Afghan Interim Administration Ministry of Agriculture faces a daunting task with few human resources. "The Ministry of Agriculture has only 1,289 people," said Sharif. "Our government is no more than four months old, and Afghanistan is very big, with a population of 25 million." But the Ministry of Agriculture is functioning and moving forward, he added. "Women are now involved. Six hundred women now work in government ministries."
"We are working for the prosperity of our people, and to bring security," said Sharif. "And we are counting on the international community to help."
The Future Harvest Consortiuman international multi-partner effortis working to harness agricultural research to revive Afghanistan's once-thriving farming sector and move the country toward food self-sufficiency by 2007. According to Deputy Minister Sharif, replacing the opium poppy crop will be one of the essential goals in this process. "Replacing poppy is one of our priorities," said Sharif. "The Ministry of Agriculture is working for alternatives to poppy cultivation."
The consortium has received US$12 million dollars in funding chiefly from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Other donors have participated or expressed interest in the consortium, which hopes to obtain additional funds for the program's efforts. ICARDA is the lead research center supporting these efforts.
"We have already learned a great deal from ICARDA's agricultural expertise and experience, and we have great hopes for our continuing partnership," said Sharif. "ICARDA has sent experts to aid our efforts in agronomy and livestock production, and we look forward to further support of officials and training to help in extension of agriculture that is adaptable and useful in Afghanistan." ICARDA has also donated over 500 scientific publications to rebuild the library at the Ministry of Agriculture.
"ICARDA researchers and scientists are working for the future of Afghanistan's people," said Dr. Adel El-Beltagy, director general of ICARDA. "We are applying knowledge gained over decades of research in
dryland crops to address critical needs in Afghanistan today."
"We are optimistic," added Sharif. "We will develop our country and rebuild its infrastructure, particularly the agricultural sector, which is crucial to helping Afghanistan's people. Plans are underway to send 25 Afghan researchers to receive training at ICARDA so they can operate the six seed-processing and three seed-health laboratories that are being established in key locations in Afghanistan by the Consortium."
Deputy Minister Sharif spent his entire life in Afghanistan and received his education in Civil Engineering through the University of Kabul.
ICARDA's (www.icarda.org) mission is to improve the welfare of people and alleviate poverty through research and training in dry areas of the developing world by increasing production, productivity, and nutritional quality of food, while preserving and enhancing the natural resource base. ICARDA is a Future Harvest Center supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
Future Harvest (www.futureharvest.org) is a global nonprofit organization that builds awareness and support for food and environmental research for a world with less poverty, a healthier human family, well-nourished children, and a better environment. Future Harvest supports the 16 food and environmental research centers that are primarily funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (www.cgiar.org).
USAID is the government agency providing U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for more than 40 years (www.USAID.gov).
More information on the Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan and the new seed can be found at http://www.futureharvest.org.