Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Snow Proves Profitable Resource in Afghan Province
For hundreds of years, people in Afghanistan have stockpiled winter snows in specially-dug pits so they can use it during the scorching summer months.
Now, residents and officials in the mountainous southeasterb province of Khost say storing and selling snow could provide a viable alternative to the illegal logging which has severely depleted local forests.
Deforestation is a major problem in Afghanistan. More than 30 years of conflict has left woodland areas devastated as people cut timber to sell or use themselves. Many loggers say they have no other means of earning an income.
“Our forest is being finished off,” said Mohammad Khan Zadran, a resident of Spera district. “We don’t know what to do about it. There are no factories for us to work in, and there is unemployment.”
Zadran added that the tradition of livestock-raising had suffered as soil damage caused by deforestation meant there was nowhere left to graze animals.
Fateh Khan, a resident of Mangal district, said that he was one of many people in the area who had abandoned illegal logging in recent years to store and sell snow.
He now transports and sells several truckloads of snow to the provincial capital every year, and says the business is going well, with last season particularly profitable.
“Previously, I would cut down trees in the forest and sell the timber, but I wouldn’t make as much profit as I make selling snow. I make 10,000 to 12,000 dollars profit every year in the snow business,” Khan said, adding that although the work was hard, it was preferable to chopping wood or having to seek employment abroad.
In Khost province, about half the 1,300 square-kilometre area once under forests has been lost, and the situation us particularly bad in the Tanay, Spera and Musa Khel districts.
Agricultural and environmental protection officials in the province estimate that the pace of deforestation could be slowed by between ten and 30 per cent if people in mountain areas turned to selling snow, and they want a national strategy to be put in place to promote this.
“The government can easily create reservoirs [for snow] in Khost, Paktia, Paktika and the northern provinces and expand the business. It will prevent deforestation,” said Khost’s director of agriculture Niaz Mohammad Lali Zadran.
To illustrate the severity of the problem, Zadran pointed to a survey carried out by German experts which found that in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces had lost nearly 75 per cent of the forested area recorded in 1978.
Although the Afghan constitution says that forests belong to the state, stopping over-exploitation of them becomes almost impossible when the government’s reach is limited.
“We have talked to people about this a lot,” said Hajji Mohammad Ali, a tribal elder from Tanay district. “We have explained that cutting down forests is harmful, but they argue that they have nothing except the forests, and that the government should find them jobs and then they will stop the deforestation. We have no answer to give them.”
Local officials say they are trying a number of tactics to discourage illegal logging.
Abdul Ghias Jalatzai, the director of environmental protection in Khost, said, “Besides the snow business, we also want to implement plans to provide people with jobs like raising livestock, beekeeping and poultry farming so that they stop cutting down trees.”
Fazlullah Fazel, director of the Khost customs department, added that to discourage over-use of forests, an extra tax of two US dollars per metre was levied on timber used to make doors and window-frames. Firewood, however, was exempt from this, and continued to be exported from Khost to Ghazni, Logar, Kandahar and many northern provinces as well as the capital Kabul.
“We have met district councils, civil society institutions and some other bodies in this regard and the work is still in progress,” said Barialai Rawan, head of the public relations department at the Khost governor’s office.
He noted that the security forces had arrested a number of people for illegal logging, but said they had been released, however, after tribal elders interceded on their behalf and they then pledged to stop the practice.
Traditional mechanisms are not strong enough to deter logging, though. An elder in Musakhel district, Omar Gul, said tribal leaders tended to put personal interest over benefits to the community.
“We have always held tribal meetings with our elders and village leaders and told them not to destroy the country’s assets and natural beauty, but no one has paid any attention,” he said. “No one accepts tribal rulings now.”
Snow can be exploited without causing any environmental problems.
Khost residents told IWPR that natural snow, stored in pits up to eight metres deep, was superior to factory-produced ice. As well as being cheaper, the flavour was better and there was a lower risk of contamination.
A resident of Khost city, Musa, said that he bought factory-produced ice at the beginning of summer until he and his children became ill with fever, coughing and sore throats. A doctor advised him to switch to natural snow.
“Since we have started using snow, we haven’t become sick again,” Musa said. “Two kilograms of ice costs approximately two dollars, while you can get five kilograms of snow for the same price, so it’s very economical.”
Some buyers complain that snow contains dirt and grass, but vendor Hajji Alam Gul said, “I always insist that clean snow is collected, because… we need to make a profit. If our snow is dirty, people won’t buy it from us.”
Demand for snow is high and business is booming.
Zalmai, a motorised rickshaw driver, buys up to ten loads of snow in Khost city every day and drives it out to sell in the countryside.
“People in villages far away from the city are so thirsty for snow that they wait hours for my rickshaw,” he said. “When I arrive, a crowd of people surround me. I barely have enough change to collect in the money.”
Qaisar Khosti is an IWPR-trained reporter in Khost province.
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