Kate Rogers Gessert
When the Taliban fled during this fall planting season, many farmers chose to plant poppies. Their reasons were numerous: strong demand and high prices after a year's ban by the Taliban, cash advances from opium traders, low seed prices. Also, with so much aid currently flowing into Afghanistan, some farmers expect there will be grain for everyone to eat and market grain prices will be low. Others hope they will be paid by the international community not to grow poppies. (United Nations)
Cattle plague, finally eradicated in Afghanistan last year, is still present in Pakistan; to build up depleted Afghanistan herds, many cows must come from Pakistan. Because of long drought, north Afghan locusts have migrated from pastureland to cropland, and last year destroyed 40% of crops in one province and everything in others; farmers are bracing for a new onslaught.
In North Afghanistan, Doctors Without Borders has declared a food crisis: doubled human mortality since August, severely malnourished children, more and more people leaving home in search of food. Many people have sold their land and animals and have only a few days' food left. One third of people have land to plant; 4% have seeds.
Shomali Plain near Kabul, once a verdant oasis of orchards, vineyards, and farm villages, has been transformed by long war to a dusty wasteland of burned houses, poisoned wells, felled orchards, abandoned tanks and landmines (Independent). Of some 600,000 inhabitants who left Shomali Plain, 200,000 are expected to return this spring to rebuild their houses and plant their fields. Land mine workers are racing to remove mines; aid organizations will provide tents, shelter-building kits, fuel, kitchen kits and three months' food to many returning farmers.
In the words of one Afghan mother of five, "We hope and pray for peace now. We just want to get on with our lives and be happy." (IRIN news)
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