Afghanistan set for biggest wheat crop in two decades – UN agency

Afghan farmer preparing his field

24 July 2003 – Afghanistan, where 85 per cent of the population depends on agriculture and chronic under-nutrition remains a major problem, is about to harvest its biggest wheat crop in two decades due in part to help from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the agency said today.

“This is a very encouraging development considering that the country suffered greatly from armed conflicts and a four-year drought,” the FAO representative in Kabul, Serge Verniau, said in a statement. “We are expecting that the harvest will amount to more than 4 million tons. The country will still need to import an estimated one million tons.”

The situation improved after good rains, better access to seeds and fertilizers and a more stable security situation. “I would say that FAO’s emergency activities, such as the delivery of seeds, fertilizers and tools and the successful control of potentially damaging locust outbreaks in the north, contributed to this success,” Mr. Verniau added.

Poverty is still widespread and people have no access to a nutritious diet or simply cannot afford it. They often live just on bread and tea, small quantities of milk and yoghurt and some legumes. People are not starving, but diets are not rich enough for children to grow and to develop mentally and for adults to be productive, Mr. Verniau said.

“The diets of many people are unbalanced,” he added. “They lack energy, but most often variety. The diets are poor in micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron and iodine. There are also pockets of scurvy due to vitamin C deficiency affecting people in the northern mountains during winter months.”

Meanwhile on the ground, tens of thousands of people are returning to their homes in the western province of Badghis amid what seems to be the end of a long and devastating drought that had forced them to leave in the last few years, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. With much rainfall and snow during 2002 and 2003, Badghis is now full of endless wheat fields and livestock this year.

But in the western province of Farah, strong winds are adding to the extensive damage already caused by fierce sandstorms which locals have called the worst in living memory. Hundreds of people have been left homeless, crops destroyed and water supplies contaminated. More than 12,000 people in all have been affected and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other UN agencies are spearheading relief efforts together with the Afghan Government.

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