Drought, continuing violence, returning refugees, and the spike in global food prices are combining to produce a serious threat to Afghan food security
, reports the New York Times
. The World Food Program has expanded its operations in Afghanistan to cover a total of nearly 9 million people
through the end of next year’s harvest, sending out an emergency appeal to donors to cover the costs.
According to a report published earlier this year by Oxfam UK,
[W]ar, displacement, persistent droughts, flooding, the laying of mines, and the sustained absence of natural resource management has led to massive environment degradation and the depletion of resources. In recent years Afghanistan’s overall agricultural produce has fallen by half. Over the last decade in some regions Afghanistan’s livestock population has fallen by up to 60% and over the last two decades, the country has lost 70% of its forests.A post-conflict environment assessment conducted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2003 confirms these dire trends in further detail. “In some areas, we found that up to 95 percent of the landscape had been deforested during the conflict—cut for fuel, bombed to remove cover, or removed to grow crops and graze livestock. Many people were fundamentally dependant on these forests for livelihoods. Without them, and without alternatives, Afghans were migrating to the cities or engaging in other forms of income generation—such as poppy production for the drug trade—in order to survive,” writes UNEP’s David Jensen in a forthcoming article in ECSP Report 13.
Despite the fact that agriculture has traditionally employed or supported approximately 80 percent of Afghans, says Oxfam, donors have vastly underinvested in the sector, spending only $300-400 million over the past six years directly on agricultural projects—a sliver of overall aid to Afghanistan.
Not only does hunger have negative impacts on health and economic growth, it could also make the security situation worse. “Development officials warn that neglecting [agriculture and development in] the poorest provinces can add to instability by pushing people to commit crimes or even to join the insurgency, which often pays its recruits,” reports the Times. In addition, an Oxfam International survey of six Afghan provinces found that land and water were the top two causes of local disputes.
To head off greater food insecurity and potential threats to overall stability, Oxfam UK recommends the development of a comprehensive national agricultural program; improved land and water management capacities; and greater support for non-agricultural income-generating activities, such as carpet-making.
Photo: An irrigated area near Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. Courtesy of UN Environment Programme (source: Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment).