Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sky-high wheat prices have Afghan farmers crowing it’s better than opium

Afghanistan – It’s being heralded as a first by old Afghan farmers who swear they’ve never seen such a windfall.

They are reporting record profits from a crop that does not kill anyone, does not fund insurgents and does not place them at risk of having their farm destroyed by the state.

In short, this crop is everything that the opium poppy is not.

Raz Mohammad strokes his gargantuan grey beard and sings the praises of his miracle crop: wheat.

He says he cannot recall a time when the staple grain competed with the opiate flower as a money-maker – until this year.

“I am 70 years old,” says the lifelong farmer. “I have never seen this, wheat at this price.”

While the country’s poorest consumers are suffering from the global spike in grain prices, the inflationary trend is being heralded as a possible solution to Afghanistan’s poppy-growing addiction.

Several farmers interviewed near Kandahar city all described record profits from this year’s wheat harvest.

Mohammad says he’s even received jealous phone calls from relatives who grow poppies in neighbouring Helmand province, calls that would have been unimaginable a year ago.

“They say, ‘We missed our chance this year’,” Mohammad says.

“They say, ‘Next year, we will also grow wheat. We will not grow opium’.”

Statistics provided by the United Nations World Food Program indicate that farmers received up to 40 times more income for poppy over wheat in 2003.

Such towering profits in such a destitute country help explain why Afghanistan produces 90 per cent of the world’s heroin, and why poppies account for a staggering half of the national economy.

But at a tribal meeting in a town lined with ancient mud-walled compounds, turban-clad elders crouch around a battered old calculator and determine that they’ve now made more from cereals.

Another farmer, Sher Muhammad, says he’s selling wheat at five times last year’s price.

Statistics from Kandahar’s Department of Agriculture indicate that wheat in Kandahar province sells for almost triple last year’s rate and now goes for about 60 Canadian cents a kilogram.

Kandahar’s director of agriculture concedes it would be a stretch to call wheat more lucrative than the crop that produces two of the world’s most devastating drugs: opium and heroin.

Abdul Hai Nemati estimates that a small half-acre plot of land would yield 500 kilos of wheat worth $285 this year. The same-sized farm would produce 12 kilos of poppy resin worth $571.

But he notes that the poppy holds drawbacks that can wipe out its cash advantage.

It is far more complicated to cultivate, and hiring outside help cuts into a farmer’s profits. And although the percentage of farms destroyed by authorities is miniscule, the risk of eradication is always there.

“Poppies are expensive – which is why people grow them,” Nemati said. “But there are also a lot of risks.”

A United Nations official warned against any triumphalism in the fight against the dreaded poppy.

She notes a somber reason for the high cost of wheat: it’s been a disastrous year for production and there are shortages.

Drought and locust plagues have driven down output by 36 per cent this year, says Susana Rico, Afghan director for the UN World Food Program. For farmers with poor irrigation, the drop has been twice as bad.

Last year, the country produced 90 per cent of its food needs, Rico said. The total this year is only 66 per cent. Malnutrition is a chronic problem in this country and now it’s even worse than usual, she said.

“It’s a horrible year for Afghanistan,” Rico said.

“A few people are making a lot more money, particularly those who have irrigated land. For those who rely on rain-fed production, the output has been devastatingly low.”

But the work of one Canadian agency might explain why so many farmers in Zaker Sharif are smiling.

The government-funded Development Works group has made irrigation one of its key projects in the Dand district, on the footsteps of Kandahar city.

It has built a bakery, a pharmacy and a local market as part of an intense economic-development effort focused on a small area that has seen relative peace.

Earlier this year, the group hired 500 local workers to clear out 65 kilometres worth of canals that had been clogged and ruined by decades of war and neglect.

The results were almost instantaneous.

Within weeks, patches of land that had been dusty and parched were sprouting patches of green.

Development Works director Drew Gilmour says it cost only $65,000 to double the amount of arable land in the area to 3,000 hectares. Thousands of farmers and their families are now benefitting.

With improved farming practices, he says, the poppy trade can be defeated elsewhere in Afghanistan.

“Opium is a vulnerable industry,” Gilmour said.

“Take away the illegality, take away the immorality, the fact is that farmers are not making money from it.

“There are many other industries – grapes, pomegranates, saffron, even wheat, lowly wheat – that can make them more money.”

Source:The Canadian Press
Date: July 22, 2008
By Alexander Panetta, Zaker Sharif

Watching television in Kabul

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Security Council Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

At the Security Council Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Mr. President

Allow me to begin by expressing my delegation’s gratitude to Viet Nam’s Presidency for convening today’s meeting on Children and Armed Conflict. This meeting provides an opportunity to renew our strong commitment in ensuring the protection and rights of children in armed conflict as well as reviewing progress made in this respect.

We would also like to express our appreciation to Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General for children and armed conflict, for her visit to Afghanistan and comprehensive statement.

Mr. President,

All children have the same needs and share the same dreams; they represent the future of our societies and mirror the state they live in. The Government of Afghanistan is still making efforts to rebuild its country devastated by 30 years of war which dramatically affected the lives of our children, particularly girls. The major victims of the war in Afghanistan are our children; years of conflict in our country have destroyed basic necessities of life such as schools, health care, adequate shelter, water and food, as well as disrupted family relationships. It has also created stigma and post traumatic distress, generated a spirit of pessimistic outlook about their future.

Afghanistan is strongly committed to reversing the impact of war on children and fulfilling its obligation towards the protection of children. The improvement of the situation of Afghan children and comprehensive protection of their rights is an essential precondition for the sustainable development of our state. It will also lay a solid foundation for our next generation to live in peace, prosperity and enjoy their human rights. Our vision for ensuring the protection and well being of our children is to develop an environment which provides security, guarantee economic and social opportunities and respect the rule of law.

We have achieved considerable progress towards improving the status of children since 2001. Nevertheless today we are facing critical security challenges that jeopardize the gains made in the past 7 years and undermine our collective efforts in improving the living conditions of our children towards a promising and bright future.

Mr. President,

Terrorism constitutes a major threat and drastically affects the daily lives of our people particularly children. The deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan is the product of the surge of terrorist activities carried out by Al Qaida, Taliban and other associated armed groups. Terrorists have increased attacks in our territory, using barbaric acts and methods including the use of car bombs, suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices directed at national and international forces. These attacks deliberately target densely populated areas where children are the prime victims.

Mr. President,

The Taliban are using the most atrocious practice conceivable to conduct their subversive operations. Terrorists are recruiting, training, exploiting children as combatants and sending them to operate as suicide bombers. As Afghan and international security forces become more alerted at recognizing suicide attackers, children are used because they are not generally suspected. It also forms an effective instrument of psychological warfare as the specter of the “child attacker” is as terrifying as it incomprehensible.

The intensification of Taliban intimidation campaign through burning of schools and clinics, disseminating of threatening night notes, attacking of teachers, and school-children has created an atmosphere of terror and traumatizes children from going to schools and ruin their future. Furthermore, it undermines our efforts in achieving development goals aimed at improving the living conditions of our citizens including children and provides a gloomy future for our people.

The state of hopelessness resulting from years of living in conflict and from poor socio – economical conditions, supported by the brainwash indoctrination provided in madrasas across our borders are creating favorable conditions for recruitment and training of innocent children to target a wide spectrum of Afghan and international civilian and military personnel. We are deeply concerned about the loss of rising number of children killed and injured by the Taliban and other terrorist foreign groups.

We would also like to express our grave concern about the loss of lives and injuries of children during counter-terrorism operations, In that regard, we call on our international partners to exercise maximum caution and enhance coordination with Afghan security forces during operations to avoid the loss of civilian life and ensure the safety and physical integrity of children.

Mr. President,

The protection of children in armed conflict is one of the most daunting humanitarian and security challenges facing the International Community today. Addressing the socio economic needs of children in armed conflict and ensuring their rights requires an integrated strategy with a special focus on poverty alleviation especially among the most vulnerable segment of our society including widows and orphans. Successful implementation of such a strategy requires full cooperation and coordination between the Government of Afghanistan and development partners as well as the United Nations agencies. We would like to call on all donor countries and development agencies to assist us achieve sustainable development, poverty eradication, and good governance.

Thank you Mr. President.