KABUL -- Afghan officials say the country's agricultural sector is being modernized in a bid to attract foreign investment and get farmers to stop growing poppies, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's Agriculture Ministry says it has worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to introduce cold-storage facilities and transport infrastructure to improve the export of agricultural products to world markets.
Agriculture Minister Mohammad Asif Rahimi told RFE/RL that "Afghanistan is known for producing some of the finest fruits and nuts in the region. Exporting these products will bolster the Afghan economy and help bring a better livelihood to the many people involved in the agricultural sector in the country."
He added that "farmers currently make little profit from growing agricultural products, but we believe that by introducing these modern techniques the profitability for farmers will increase by 30 percent."
According to the World Bank, 70 percent of Afghanistan's 15-million-strong labor force is working in the agricultural sector, which accounts for almost 80 percent of the country's GDP (not including the cultivation of crops such as poppy plants).
The Afghanistan Agricultural Development Fund, which was formed by the USAID, has recently introduced loans that it has distributed to some 8,000 farmers across the country.
'Still Producing 90 Percent Of The World's Opium'
Rahimi told RFE/RL that the loans have strengthened the position of farmers, food exporters, and food manufacturers.
"Credit brings knowledge, money, and machinery to our farmers when they need it, where they need it, and on realistic terms at affordable costs," he said. "It makes our farmers more prosperous and our cooperatives more powerful and effective."
Part of the initiative, Rahimi told RFE/RL, was to help farmers earn cash and discourage them from cultivating the poppy fields that keep the illegal opium trade thriving.
"Afghanistan is still producing around 90 percent of the world's opium, despite the efforts of the Afghan government and international forces," he said. "For poor farmers growing poppies is a way to make a living, but we hope that with these new initiatives we can lead them to a path that benefits both them and the rest of the country."
The drug trade in Afghanistan is also used by the Taliban to finance its insurgency against Afghan and international forces.
Counterterrorism officials say insurgent Islamist groups have a taxation system that generates money from the production, processing, and transport of opium in Afghanistan.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said that between 2003 and 2008 the Taliban made an estimated $18 billion from drug production and trafficking.
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