Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Farmers Face Locust Threat

Locusts are wreaking havoc in the once thriving farmlands of Kunduz province.
By Shoib Safi

One of the country’s main farming regions is in crisis because of swarms of locusts and a severe shortage of agricultural resources.

Kunduz, in the north of Afghanistan across the Amu river from Tajikistan, has long been the country's top producing agricultural area. Wheat, rice and cotton are supplied to other, less productive, regions. But the area is now under threat.

A United Nations survey found the number of locusts in Kunduz has increased tenfold over the past year and now threatens neighbouring Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. The insects sweep down on the growing crops, often eating their way through whole fields in a matter of hours.

In addition to damaging farmland, the locusts have badly affected trees bearing fruits and nuts in mountainous areas and forests close to the Amu river.

"Last year we saved our farms from locusts in the first part of the growing season, but because we didn’t have any pesticides, we could not prevent them destroying the crops," said Dawran Shah, a local agricultural official.

It’s all a far cry from the situation in the late Eighties, under the Najibullah’s rule, when farmers were never short of pesticides, which were imported from the Soviet Union along with tractors, harvesters and other machinery. But this all came to an end with the emergence of the mujahedin a decade later and Kunduz farmers are now back using animals to help them work the land.

"During Najibullah's time our department had 115 tractors, harvesters and threshers, but when the mujahedin came, they looted everything and at the moment, we don't have anything," said Shah.

Sher Mohammad harvested 7,000 kg of wheat from his 30 acres in Kunduz earlier this year, but his second crop of corn, cotton and sesame oil has failed.

"During the last two years, agriculture in Kunduz has suffered badly from diseases, which have destroyed the farms of many people. The people of Kunduz are very tired of locusts. The local agricultural officials are not able to fight these diseases."

The authorities admit they are powerless. "We don't have any facilities to fight the diseases," said Mohammad Ibrahim, president of the Kunduz agricultural department. “At the moment our farmers have lots of problems. We have to cope with the war damage and we don’t have genetically modified grains and chemicals.

“After the collapse of the Taleban and the establishment of the new transitional government, some international organisations contacted us, but they’ve done nothing yet - although they have promised to sell genetically modified grains to our farmers."

It is 10 years since the Agriculture Development Bank was disbanded, ending a supply of loans to farmers, which they would like to see restarted.

The farmers also want to see the government set up a company to make fertilizer, which at the moment is in the hands of private traders.

"The government should take it from private traders and make it part of ministry, which would then be able to send fertilizer to all the provinces for a specific price,” said Ibrahimi.

"Farmers have to borrow money to pay for fertilizer and seed before sowing their farms. When they sell their agricultural products, they pay most of their money out for the fertilizer and grains they had borrowed. As a result, the farmers gain nothing."

Shoib Safi is a Kabul-based freelance journalist