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AFG/250
                                                                                                                        SAG/243
                                                                                                                        SOC/NAR/899


                                                                                                                        30 March 2004

Agriculture Crucial to Combat Afghan Opium Economy, Says FAO

FAO Appeals for $60 million in Support of Farming Sector -
Projects in Main Poppy-Producing Regions

(Reissued as received.)

ROME, 29 March -- The fight against opium production in Afghanistan should be based on law enforcement and the rehabilitation of agriculture, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today on the eve of an international donors' conference in Berlin.

The FAO appealed for $60 million to support Afghanistan's agricultural sector in the next year, covering crop production and seed multiplication, irrigation, animal health and production, plant protection, horticulture, nutrition education and capacity building.

The programme includes a $25.5 million component to finance agricultural development projects over the next five years in the four main poppy-producing provinces, targeting around 1.5 million people.

"Developing market-oriented and subsistence agriculture and creating alternative livelihoods for millions of Afghans who have suffered from war and destitution is an important contribution to achieving peace and stability in the country", said FAO representative Serge Verniau.

"Unfortunately, agriculture in Afghanistan has still not received the support it urgently needs, with around 85 per cent of the people depending on agriculture for their survival", he said.

Despite a record harvest in 2003, millions of farming families, refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran, and displaced people still have no access to food, the FAO said.

Poppy Cultivation is Booming

"Rural poverty and the lack of income are the main reasons why farmers produce opium", Mr. Verniau said.  Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer, is expecting record poppy production this year, with cultivation spreading further into remote areas.

"It will take a long-term commitment and probably more than a decade to create alternative income opportunities.  The FAO aims to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure to strengthen ties between the regions and the central government, particularly in some of the main poppy-producing areas, and to boost horticulture, livestock and cash-crop production in order to create alternative livelihoods for small farmers, landless workers and vulnerable groups", he added.

Alternative Cash Crops

"For example, Afghanistan could become an exporter of organically produced nuts and raisins.  The conditions for farmers to produce need to be created and the niche markets for their products have to be explored, meeting required international product standards", Mr. Verniau said.

Many tree nurseries need to be restored to respond to a growing demand for planting materials.  The construction of small irrigation dams is important where farmers are facing restricted water availability -- for example, in Kandahar, where the main water supply reservoir is silted up after many years of drought.  This has degraded once-thriving orchards in the area.

The rehabilitation of irrigation systems should be accompanied by providing agricultural inputs, improved seeds, creating storage facilities and marketing opportunities.

The FAO also proposes to intensify horticultural production by training orchard farmers in post-harvest technologies and in managing vegetable storage facilities.

Livestock and Locusts

"Livestock farmers should have access to credit to buy sheep, and each province should have a feed mill.  The FAO would also extend its successful income-generating poultry projects for women throughout the country", Mr. Verniau said.

The FAO is concerned about the weakness of the animal health services in the country.  "There is, for example, no ability to control animal imports which increases the risk of introducing livestock diseases from neighbouring countries", he said.

Afghanistan needs a veterinary service to prove that it is free from major animal diseases such as rinderpest, the FAO said.  Veterinary surveillance is needed to ensure that animal diseases are under control.

In addition, animal health is essential to enable families to restock their farm animals lost during the last drought.  Livestock production has traditionally been an important source of food and income in Afghanistan.

In northern Afghanistan, the FAO is supporting an emergency locust-control campaign in close cooperation with the provincial plant protection departments.  Locust campaigns in recent years have proved to be very successful.

"However, a long-term regional integrated strategy and donor assistance is needed to enable institutions, farmers and their communities to keep locusts under control.  Locust control should be a regular, not just an emergency, activity. Mobilizing communities, monitoring and implementing control measures and training in integrated pest management should become a priority", Mr. Verniau said.

"Technical interventions will only be successful if Afghanistan manages to create efficient institutions to support local communities.  This will take time and money", he said.

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