A Tough Nut to Crack: Agricultural Remediation Efforts in AfghanistanApril 5, 2010 By Julien Katchinoff
“It was pretty much a normal day in Afghanistan on Monday.Though only earning a glancing mention in The New York Times, it is heartening to see a response to the environmental and economic loss of Afghanistan’s once abundant wild pistachio forests. As a result of wide-spread environmental mismanagement and war, the past 30 years have seen a dramatic decline in the wild pistachio woodlands native to Northwestern Afghanistan.
“A couple of civilian casualties caused by insurgents. More investigations into corrupt former ministers. The opening of six new projects in Herat Province by the Italians and the Spaniards, which are the NATO countries in the lead in western Afghanistan. All right, not six, projects, but two or three, and the Spanish announced a pistachio tree-growing program to replace poppies. Pistachios, poppies… maybe pine nuts will be next.”
– At War: An Airborne Afghan Folk Tale, Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 1, 2010
In a 2009 survey of Afghanistan’s environmental challenges, UNEP found that, while in 1970 “the Badghis and Takhar provinces of northern Afghanistan were covered with productive pistachio forests and earned substantial revenue from the sale of nuts,” few remain as the forests have since succumbed to mismanagement, war, and illegal logging.
In this video by the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch of UNEP, scenes of dusty and denuded hillsides clearly show that rural Afghan farmers in search of sustainable livelihoods have few options remaining.
The project mentioned in the New York Times is a recent foray into remediation efforts by a Spanish Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) that targets communities previously involved in the production of illegal drugs. In conjunction with the Spanish Agency of Coordination and Development (AECID), the Spanish PRT is working in over 13 sites in Baghdis province–a region once covered in pistachio trees–to help farmers transition to legal crops and restore the traditional pistachio forests to their former prominence. AECID joins the Afghan Conservation Corps (ACC), USAID, NATO and additional partners in promoting remediation projects to reverse deforestation.
Unfortunately, these programs face daunting obstacles, as pistachio and other traditional Afghan cash crops –such as raisins, figs, almonds and other nuts– require substantial re-investments of time, money, and infrastructure development. Furthermore, convincing desperate rural farmers to transition to nearly untested alternative crops is difficult when they are currently counting the days to the spring opium harvest.
Recently, eradication efforts targeting small-scale farms have abated, and increased attention is being paid to facilitating shifts toward new products through free seeds, loans, technical assistance, and irrigation investments. If successful, these projects will grant rural Afghan communities the ability to sustainably and legally provide for their families, providing long-term employment and returns for a region lacking in both money and hope for the future.
Video Credit: UNEP Video, “UNEP observes massive deforestation in Afghanistan” .