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Afghanistan: FAO Appeals For $39 Million To Help Increase Food Production

Saying long-term economic stability in Afghanistan can only be built on the restoration of the agriculture sector, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is appealing for $39 million to help Afghans increase food production this year.

Prague, 24 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- At the international Afghan donors conference in Tokyo on 21-22 January, dozens of nation pledged more than $4.5 billion to help rebuild Afghanistan over the next five years. Donor countries and international agencies promised to deliver $1.8 billion this year to meet Afghanistan's immediate needs.

On the occasion of the conference, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations announced that peace and long-term economic stability in Afghanistan must be built on the restoration of its agriculture sector.

In a statement, the agency said: "The shortest path to national stability will be for the rural population to return to their fields and produce the nation's food." The FAO estimates that some 85 percent of Afghanistan's population is dependent on income from agriculture.

The FAO says $39 million is needed this year in Afghanistan to improve access to food in rural and urban areas by increasing food production and for generating agriculture income by providing basic needs such as seed and fertilizer.

The FAO's statement was part of the UN Appeal for the Immediate and Transitional Assistance Program for Afghanistan for 2002, launched at the Tokyo conference. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the conference that "even before spending plans for the longer-term needs can be worked out, Afghanistan needs $1.3 billion right now to cover its immediate needs."

Laurent Thomas, head of special emergency operations for the FAO, told RFE/RL that the $39 million represents the minimum aid needed for the immediate rehabilitation of Afghanistan's agriculture sector.

"We have presented in Tokyo the minimum needs of Afghanistan for the coming year, which are estimated at $39 million. This is nothing compared to the needs for the global reconstruction of agriculture, because all agricultural sectors have to be supported," Thomas said. "The country has not been helped for two decades. The World Bank, for example, estimates that cumulated needs for the reconstruction of agriculture reach $850 million for the next five years."

For its short-term emergency activities, the FAO is asking for $18 million for the distribution of seed and fertilizer, for vegetable kits to give to returning families, for livestock vaccinations and feed, for emergency preparedness against locust attacks, and for the establishment of a Food Security Assessment Unit.

Ann Bauer is the head of the FAO's emergency program in Afghanistan. She calls the food situation of the country's urban and rural populations "bleak." Autumn planting, she said, was seriously jeopardized by the country's continuing drought and by factional fighting. She said animals belonging to Afghanistan's nomads are unlikely to survive the winter due to feed shortages and disease, unless they are quickly vaccinated. Displaced farmers need seed and fertilizer.

For medium-term activities in 2002, the FAO is requesting $21 million. These development activities will focus on reforestation, seed multiplication, veterinary services, and integrated pest management.

Thomas stressed that the FAO's actions in Afghanistan will also focus on fruit production and the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes: "We are concerned about agriculture production, livestock, but also irrigation. In a context where Afghanistan suffers repeated drought, irrigation is essential. The point is to repair irrigation schemes in order to ensure irrigated production can be pursued. We are also concerned about fruit production, which is an important source of revenue for families."

The FAO's medium-term activities also will focus on reducing reliance on poppy production, used in the heroin trade. Thomas said peasants involved in poppy production must be given alternatives that provide them with significant sources of revenue. He said Afghan farmers need to have access to alternative crops, as well as to bank credits and suitable markets.

"In the short-term, we have to make sure that peasants are given a way of achieving a minimum production. And in the middle-term, we will have to find credible technical alternatives to discourage peasants from this production," Thomas said.

Thomas confirmed that the purchase and distribution of seeds is currently under way for the spring planting. And he emphasized the importance of coordination among various emergency relief operations in Afghanistan: "FAO is concerned that it has to work in partnership to ensure the reconstruction of the agricultural sector. There was an initiative here in Rome between the three Rome-based UN agencies -- the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Food Program, and the FAO -- to make sure we coordinate our actions."

While doubts have been raised about how quickly the international aid can be distributed, Thomas expressed confidence in the will of international donors to help Afghanistan. He said contacts he has had with donor countries prove there is what he called a "sincere desire" to help Afghanistan and to put the declarations of aid into concrete form.

After its initial aid appeal in early August, the UN agency received $3.5 million from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and the U.S. The FAO said another $5.4 million has been pledged for the FAO's Afghan agriculture efforts during the last few days.