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Harvest Setback

The people of Bamyan will probably have to rely heavily on international relief over the winter months.
By Said Maruf

Western aid organisations look as though they will have to lay on extra reserves of food for the people of Bamyan this winter as it seems increasingly likely that this year’s harvest will fail.


When the Taleban finally lost its grip on the province in December 2001, relief groups were unable to bring in wheat seed for farmers to plant at the traditional time. It was April before French NGO Solidarite was able to distribute the seed – and farmers were unable to plant until May.


The extra delay resulted from the fact that the student militia had systematically destroyed most of the livestock in central Bamiyan - a predominantly Hazara province - as part of their campaign to crush resistance in the area.


Each household used to own a couple of oxen and could begin planting immediately after receiving the seeds, but this year farmers lost a lot of time trying to hire animals.


They now fear that the green fields of wheat up and down the province will not be ready for harvest before the cold weather sets in at the end of September - and all will be lost.


Lutfullah, who runs Solidarite’s agricultural programmes, said, “This grain has not had a good result. It should have been planted in December in Bamyan but we only got the seed at the end of April. ”


In common with most other parts of Afghanistan, Bamyan has seen many of its refugees return this year. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, believes that several thousand families have come back to the centre of the province alone.


But with a poor harvest anticipated, they will be dependent on food aid in the winter if they are not to starve.


To counteract the effects of the harsh Afghan winters, the UN and other agencies say they will have to position food stocks at several points within the region to stand any chance of distributing them effectively.


Sherzai, an Afghan agronomist working in the area, believes the late sown wheat might still be of useful to the farmers. “Solidarite should hold meetings in mosques and tea houses and tell the farmers to wait at least one more month before harvesting. Then, even if the wheat only gets to the milk stage, they will still get high quality animal fodder out of the crop,” he said.


The effects of the country’s conflicts are keenly felt in every area of agricultural life. As well as destroying livestock, the Taleban also wrecked many irrigation systems in the region. The uplands, traditionally summer pasture land for millions of sheep and goats, now lie unused due to bad feeling between the Kuchi nomads and the Hazara who suspected them of close ties with the student militia.


Said Maruf is a freelance journalist in Kabul


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