The increasing incidence of poverty caused by chemical interventions disguised as progressive aid is yet another side of the multifaceted ‘America in Afghanistan’ coin as this not only subjects the civilian population to the threat of sudden death by what is erroneously termed ‘friendly fire’, but it also affects the lives of struggling rural farmers and not — as surface impressions imply — for the better.
Until the Soviet invasion in 1979, agriculture was Afghanistan’s backbone, as it is here in Pakistan, too. However, over 30 years of war and civil strife — caused largely by the scorched earth policy widely employed by the Soviets — has brought the important agriculture sector to its knees and resulted in a terrible five-year drought. This began at the same time as the Taliban rule and was viewed as holy vengeance by some. It exacerbated the situation to a critical point and the country had no option but to resort to importing the agricultural produce it so desperately needed.
Enter America, which bombed its way onto the scene back in 2001 and remains, despite highly publicised reports of withdrawal next year, as firmly entrenched as ever. Promising eternal salvation on almost all fronts, American interests of varying descriptions undertook — and continue to implement — agricultural programmes, which claim to aim at improving the lot of farmers all over the country as well as boosting much-needed agricultural production. It is true that as a direct result of American assistance, agricultural production has, in some areas of the country, increased by leaps and bounds but in the process, traditional, sustainable agricultural practices have been completely wiped out and farmers are now worse off than ever.
As a huge percentage of indigenous varieties of fruits and vegetables were totally wiped out during the years of the ongoing war due to non-collection or non-availability of locally produced seed, American companies operated directly, via NGOs and even through the Afghan government’s own department of agriculture, which leaves much to be desired at present. They have been quick to introduce hybrid varieties for which new seeds must be purchased each year if crop levels are to be maintained. These seeds are not bred for the Afghan climatic and soil conditions and require lethal — in terms of both health and finance — amounts of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides, herbicides, etc. in order for them to produce crops. Unfortunately, this has become the trend now and farmers eager to sell their produce quite naturally expected the occupying forces, especially the sizeable American contingent, to be their best customers but their optimism was quickly proved wrong.
Not so much as an Afghan onion is purchased by the American forces as they solely depend on imported — wait for it — purely organic fresh fruits and vegetables of the type Afghan farmers traditionally grew until the US decided to make a profit by forcing chemical intervention on them in the supposed form of aid. Farmers were also enticed away from multi-culture to monoculture. As a result, a farmer with, for example, a fantastic crop of cauliflowers cannot, due to a localised glut, even get his original investment back and so is far worse off than he ever was before.
Unless the tables are turned immediately, this thoughtless destruction of Afghan agriculture will have long-lasting effects all around and is something that farmers here in Pakistan need to be wary of, too.
Published in The Express Tribune