Advances in agricultural technology have brought Afghanistan into the modern era. They have allowed the country the opportunity to succeed in the global market while at the same time turning it into the war ravaged nation seen on television every night. Its history has been filled with stories of both prosperity and defeat. Agriculture has been impacted heavily by war and lack of modern tools, equipment and common know how. Although many have come to the aid of Afghanistan, moral and ethical issues have hindered those efforts.
It is a country full of many possibilities, as well as people willing to fulfill them. Brief History of Afghanistan With a population of about 28 million, Afghanistan is the 42nd most populous country in the world. It spans an area of 647,500 km land locked in the heart of the Middle East, surrounded by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and the People’s Republic of China in the far northeast. Afghanistan’s name is derived from the early Persian name, Afghan, for the earliest settlers of the land, the Pashtun Tribes.
The Pashtun tribes to this day make up the largest ethnic group in the country. The earliest inhabitants of the land were nomadic tribes who used Afghanistan’s geographic location as a passage between southern and eastern Asia to Europe and the Middle East. These passages became trade routes later designated the “Silk Road” for their importance in the silk trade. With the advent of agriculture, the nomadic tribes began to settle areas of the country. According to the center for applied linguistics, “Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation in Afghanistan from as far back as 50,000 BC.
The artifacts [recovered from archaeological digs] indicate that the indigenous people were small farmers and herdsmen, as they are today, very probably grouped into tribes, with small local kingdoms rising and falling through the ages” (“Afghans-Their History,” 2002). These farming communities may have been some of the earliest in the world. Evidence has led experts to believe that urban civilization may have begun in the area as early as 3,000 to 2,000 BC. With its location and history, Afghanistan has often been considered a valued prize for any army to command.
Throughout history, this land’s strategic location has instigated many military conquests by leaders such as Alexander the Great, Chandragupta Maurya, and Genghis Khan. It also served local dynasties such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Timurids, Mughals and many others to establish empires of their own. Afghanistan’s political history began in the 18th century with the rise of the Pashtuns. Years later the Hotaki dynasty rose to power in Kandahar followed by Durrani.
The CIA world fact book confirms, “Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747” (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011). By 1893, Kabul was made the capital and parts of the Afghanistane were ceded to neighboring empires. In the late 19th century, in an era marked by imperialism, the country became a buffer state in the “Great Game” between the British and Russian empires. The struggle between the two powers helped to form Afghanistan’s current boarders. The nation finally regained its independence from Britain in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi.
Since the 1970s, modern Afghanistan has been in a constant state of war. In the 1979 Soviet War, the Soviet army occupied the country until a Taliban supported military intervention from Pakistan opened the doors for the Taliban to become the ruling class in Afghanistan. After the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centers, the United States spearheaded military operations that overthrew the Taliban government. As a result of these operations and US help, the Karzai administration gained control of the nation.
In December 2001, the United Nations Security Council created an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to help maintain security and assist the Karzai administration. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that, “Virtually all the people of Afghanistan are Muslim, of whom some three-fourths are Sunnites. The others, particularly the Azara and Kizilbash, follow either Ithna, Ashari or Isma Shiite Islam. There are also a few thousand Hindus and Sikhs” (Afghanistan, 2011). Islam is a major factor in the laws and governing of Afghanistan.
With the advent of the Taliban, Islamic courts and an Islamic administration of justice assumed greater prominence, with interpretation of the law by clergy. These changes have widely replaced the authority once exercised by traditional local leaders, or khans. Economically the country has generally been funded by the United States and the Soviet Union. The soviet invasion in 1979 forced the country into economic disparity. The invasion and subsequent civil war all but halted the country’s production capabilities of virtually everything but natural gas and a few other products deemed essential by the Soviet government.
However, with the advent of Taliban rule, the economy worsened even further. Two decades of war and harsh Taliban social policies left few educated Afghans with any useable skills. As a result, the modern economy of the country collapsed during the 1990’s. While historically the region now known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has always been significant, from both geographic and political standpoints, the history of the region itself is largely governed by agricultural progress. From the earliest nomads and settlers to the modern country, this fundamental method of subsistence has ruled.
As the development of agriculture goes, so goes the history of the region. Brief History of Agriculture The earliest domestication of plants and animals varied with regions, but the oldest may date from 10,000 BC. Carbon-14 testing of animal and plant remains has found evidence of domesticated sheep as early as 9000 BC. Wheat and barley were grown and harvested as early as the 8th millennium BC. Excavations have found that the earliest farmers used wood and stone to create tools to help in their craft. The stone adz, the sickle, the digging stick, the spade or hoe, and the plow were created to help the farmers cultivate the land.
It is speculated that structured agriculture began when farmers began noting which of the wild plants were edible or useful. Early farmers learned to save the seed of these plants and replant them. The domestication of animals for food likely began by capturing young goats, sheep, and cattle from the wild. The rise of agriculture has produced more than just food. It is thought to be the direct cause for the creation of civilization. The Neolithic farmers would group their homes together around a field and their livestock.
These groups became small villages, sheltering animals and humans in adjacent or joined buildings. The growth of cities such as Jericho, which was founded in around 9000BC, is thought to have been stimulated by the production of surplus crops. Over time, more and more improvements were made as technology developed and further varieties of plants were farmed. Metal tools became longer lasting and more efficient, and cultivation was greatly improved by such aids as the ox-drawn plow fitted with an iron-tipped point. Storage methods for oil and grain were improved.
Irrigation systems made it feasible to utilize more of the land. Furthermore, the introduction of fertilizer, mostly animal manures, and the rotation of fallow and crop land made these agricultural techniques more productive. The single most important improvement to agriculture came during the industrial revolution. The steam engine made it possible to create equipment like the tractor and the combine harvester. These tools revolutionized the farming industry. Farmers now needed less help to cultivate and harvest more land. They could plant and harvest their crops in a fraction of the time it used to take them.
Today, agriculturalists are no longer small farmers and ranchers like their predecessors. They are not limited to farming for survival, or to provide for a village or town. Tools like the internet, telephone, and the diesel engine have helped make farming a global business. Every day farming businesses are selling their products all over the world. Modern agriculture was the moving factor to developing the modern state of Afghanistan. It has especially been the catalyst to the country’s most recent history, both the highs and lows, in virtually every aspect of the country.
From advancements in education, the rise and fall of religious regimes, the shaping of the current government and the obvious impacts on the economy, the state of agriculture in Afghanistan has fundamentally and irrevocably changed the country. The start of the most recent revolution may be viewed as the occurrence of a natural disaster. The state of the country at this time, sociologically, politically, religiously, and economically created a sort of perfect storm which consequently brought the country into the modern era.
The worst drought in 50 years, decades of war, occupation by the Russians and Taliban, and the lack of agricultural knowledge and education had turned Afghanistan into one of the poorest countries in the world. The Impact of Agriculture Education Severe drought, stemming from the lowest recorded rainfall in fifty years, has caused Afghanistan’s worst food crisis ever. Water normally used to irrigate the lands had historically come from melting snow, but there has been very little snowfall. Parts of the country, which were badly affected, have only been able to produced 40 percent of the normally expected yields.
The drought was so severe that lakes which fed the water wells and the Arghandab dam had completely dried up, consequently draining the dam and wells. This caused devastation to the barley and wheat crops and almost completely wiped them out. This devastation forced Afghanistan to advance in their knowledge of agricultural. This has also forced a compromise to their religious beliefs. The U. S. sent veterinarians, agronomists and horticulture experts to help farmers in Afghanistan improve the health of livestock and boost crop yields.
These workers helped to reeducate the over 80 percent of Afghanistan’s citizens who work in agriculture. Much of the technology and improved farming practices that are common in the United States were unknown at the time. Since, U. S. teams began working with farmers in a dozen provinces, Afghanistan’s agriculture industry expanded. They recently have made a number of notable achievements such as the export of pomegranates to markets in Dubai, the opening of rural farm-supply stores, and the restoration of pistachio orchards. The broadened spectrum of produce now
includes apples, pomegranates, grapes, apricots, almonds, chickpeas, peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower and soybeans. While the dairy industry remains small, primarily due to an insufficient infrastructure to keep milk from spoiling, the progress is evident. The influx of knowledge aided greatly in training Afghans in beekeeping as well, such as when and how to move the insects critical to pollination around orchards and fields. Grape farmers learned how to use trellises and trickle irrigation to improve their yields. Afghans were shown how to build humane, sanitary livestock slaughterhouses powered by wind and solar energy.
The U. S. taught Afghans how to build root cellars to keep produce cool and how to build wind turbines to pump water from the ground for irrigation. They also educated the livestock owners about proper nutrition, inoculations, artificial insemination and de-worming to improve the health of farm animals. Afghanistan has also increased advances in basic education. They have more than 10,000 schools and are providing educational services to 6. 3 million youth. Enrollment growth has increased to six times the total reported in 2001. The Taliban regime would not allow any females to register in school.
Today, 36% of the student population is female. Similarly, the number of teachers has increased 7 times to 142,500 and nearly 40,000 of these are women. The United States has spent an estimated $7. 8 billion on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2001. They maintain that their programs have been effective to improve the economy, agriculture, education and helped eliminate one of the religious conflicts. They funded the construction of 1,600 miles of roads, the building and refurbishing of 680 schools, and the training of thousands of civil servants. Religion
The religion of choice among majority of Afghans is Muslim. A Mullah is an important figure in Muslim life in Afghanistan. He’s a religious leader or teacher of their religious practices. The mullah conducts the Friday sermon, prayers, marriages, and funerals. He also teaches the laws and doctrines of Islam. Mullahs arbitrate local disputes, based upon Islamic legal principles, called upon to provide advice and resolution of many other physical, social, and personal problems, including such things as medicines, local water disputes, or a family feud.
In some of the more remote rural areas, the local mullah and the local khan (landlord) dictate what their followers may or may not do. Any man who can recite the Koran from memory can be a mullah, but since the book was written and memorized in Arabic, the mullah may not understand the words or their meanings. Due to economic poverty, and sheer need, Afghanistan has become one of the world’s largest producers of opium. They began producing the drug to help stimulate their poor economy and support redevelopment. The opium plant is used widely to produce the drug heroin.
Although supposedly devout Muslims, the Taliban had originally supported these practices. They claimed it provided farmers with money that they were otherwise not being able to make. That was until Mullah Omar stepped in. He is the current supreme Muslim leader who had the Taliban stop the production of opium under Islam. The Taliban enforced his decision by threatening farmers and sometimes even burning down their farms. There is some speculation by our government that the Taliban only agreed to this after stockpiling opium. This could have been planned to drive up the prices.
Government With agriculture being such a large part of the Afghan economy, improvements to the technology behind it has obvious widespread implications. Those effects can be found in virtually every aspect of the culture, including the government and the economy itself. The focus on rebuilding the agricultural economy has led to changes within the government, two of the most obvious being that of the development of the Ministry of Water and Power, or Ministry of Water and Electricity, and that of the Department of Irrigation and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.
Slightly more subtle and longer termed, the development of the agricultural activity lends its hand to the country itself becoming independent of outside help, with increased production leading to self-sufficiency. The Ministry of Water and Power was developed in its current form in December of 2004, and before revision back in 1988. It was established to further available power sources to much of Afghanistan, mainly over 20,000 people in the southern region who were greatly affected by invasion, and to expand both flood control and irrigation to the country. The ministry employs over 9,000 people and has drawn the support of other nations.
In 2006, a deal was finalized to lend $50 million dollars from a Chinese bank to help funding for the projects. Even before the ministry was established in its current form, the U. S. lent aid to further its development. Funds and materials were given both for the expansion of the electric grid, as well as the establishment of a day care for the ministry, enabling many women who were previously unemployed to return to work. The Department of Irrigation of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development was established to oversee smaller scale irrigation works.
While the Ministry of Water and Power oversee projects on a larger scale, this department focuses on rural development, small scale irrigation systems, and projects away from the main canals. While lesser in scale, this ministry handles much of the land not currently cultivated, or only slightly used. While only a fraction of land in Afghanistan is cultivatable, still only a fraction of that land is used to its potential. Many of the local irrigation systems were damaged during the war. This department focuses mainly on repairing these systems, developing new ones, and generally supplying the rural areas with water.
This expansion has helped move Afghanistan towards independence, not politically, but with sustainability. Any country which is self-sufficient is a stronger country. Afghanistan was damaged during the invasion to the point that it could no longer produce enough food to sustain its population and was dependent on outside help. The renewed efforts towards self-sufficiency only increase both the power of the government, as well as the resources it has to work with. With improved irrigation and power, which ties into dams being developed, the Afghan government is well on its way towards a broader power base and a stronger country.
However, the benefits raised by the strengthened technology in agriculture do not come without drawbacks. Specifically, the new focus on settled land development raises issues with the traditional Afghan way of life, namely nomadic pastorals. As much as fifteen percent of the Afghan population subsists on this nomadic way of life. This estimate is at best rough as accurate counts are near impossible, however the influence of the population cannot be overlooked. During the war, much of the tribal regions were littered by land mines and ravaged by war. This led to new migration paths which took them closer to settled areas.
This in turn created land disputes. While many tribes pay for use of otherwise owned land, the proximity of the two cultures creates tension. The same nomadic tribes also create problems with water rights. Many traditional ground water sites have been tapped to supply new developments. With increased irrigation, settled lands are encroaching on territories traditionally used by the tribes. This leaves them between a rock and a hard place, with the traditional pastures becoming unusable because of war and other pastures being settled by urban and rural development.
Generally this would not be such a problem for a relatively small percentage of the population; however these tribes hold more influence than their numbers would indicate. With the Soviet invasion, the nomadic tribes became a strong part of the resistance. Their ability to travel and familiarity with the region made them important arms traffickers for the resistance, and a substantially armed force which, because of their nomadic tendencies, became akin to highly effective guerrilla troops.
Because of this, the dominant political power at the time, the Taliban, was forced to ally themselves with the nomadic tribes and back their efforts. Because of this, the tribes gained much political influence that carries on to this day. Because of the nomadic lifestyle, the tribes are difficult to police, and with the political influence, the traditional form of agriculture becomes a difficult obstacle to overcome for the progressive emerging government, as well as a potential stumbling block for a reinvigorated economy. Economy
As the vast majority of Afghanistan economy stems from agriculture, the development of the technology in the field has had huge implications. With the improvement on the arable land within the country, the potential for national product has greatly increased. Eighty percent of the Afghan population is dependent on natural resources as their source of income. Each year, flooding impacts 400,000 Afghans. These floods are devastating for the families affected, washing away homes as well as killing crops and even washing away the fertile top soil.
Although not necessarily new technology, the current systematic improvement of the waterways, through technology or through simply planting trees along the banks, the impact of these devastating floods may be greatly reduced, immediately accounting for gains in gross product. Seeing the potential growth with the growing agricultural technology, there has been major investment coming in from outside sources. This influx of money has both the obvious effect of income, as well as creating jobs. Since 2002, the World Bank alone has invested $1. 45 billion U. S. to 35 reconstruction projects.
This influx of money, along with the uses the money has been put to, has greatly increased the output for regions affected. The previous irrigation systems were inefficient. Built mainly with hand dug canals, much of the water seeped into the ground, and floods every year would wash the systems away, causing crops to be lost while the canals were re-created. With the improved systems, not only is more water reaching the areas, but on a more consistent basis. Also, because of the improved efficiency in transporting the water supplies, arable land has increased by as much as 15 – 20% with the potential for much further growth.
While overwhelmingly positive in general, some of the advancements have caused drawbacks. While the influx of funding and materials has done much towards improving income and product output, the money for the most part has to be repaid some way or another. While there is a large sum of income from nonprofit organizations, much of the influx comes in the form of private or national loans. While raising potential for earnings, this immediately causes a growth in the national debt. While the improvements on the irrigation systems help the overall growth, the new irrigation systems themselves present new challenges.
Previously, less technological systems could be repaired by means the local population possessed, namely manpower and physical labor. With the use of technology, repairs to these systems when damaged require more specialized techniques. This creates a short-term problem with the infrastructure. With dams being built and concrete channels being established, the assets necessary for their maintenance are not as readily available. While the problem is being worked on, failures of the new systems, while not as frequent, can be more devastating.
While the larger projects in urban areas generally have the required skills and materials for upkeep and repair available, the cost for such repairs also increases with the more advanced systems. These costs have to be absorbed somehow. Again, while the long term benefits are unquestionable, the short term costs can be hard to absorb before the benefits are fully realized. As well, the smaller downstream irrigation systems cannot be readily repaired by the local rural population any longer. These smaller farmers do not have the means to cover the repair costs.
Any repairs needed in these regions are paid for by either the government, or through further lending, again causing short term debt problems. While the new technology may improve efficiency and development, it is also a threat to many of the farmers in the country. With the advent of the new systems, larger more efficient farms are slowly taking over, with the smaller farmers being unable to compete. While the overall product and output may be increased, the progress can potentially leave much of the population out of work, with unemployment becoming a serious issue.
Currently, the extension of the land able to be used to grow crops has led to an increase in the potential number of small farmers, as the larger more efficient farms grow, many of these farms on the outskirts may be eventually pushed out of business. The nomadic pastoral tribes are already threatened as these new farms encroach on traditional pastures, and the threat is looming for the same circumstance to repeat itself with the smaller rural farmers. It is not simply the previously mentioned aspects of Afghanistan which have been affected by agricultural implications.
The very core of the culture has been disturbed in the form of moral and ethical implications. Much of this has to do with Soviet Occupation, the vast destruction of the usable farm base, and the financial difficulties to much of the population that ensued. Moral and Ethical Issues Afghanistan has been extremely war torn over the last 20 years. It experienced an occupation by The Former Soviet Union lasting over 9 years. This military fiasco left in its wake a countryside littered with failed bombs and ammunition, otherwise known as unexploded ordnance.
Unexploded ordinance can be very unstable and takes a team of highly trained specialists to remove and dispose of. This costs money and time which is what the economy of Afghanistan has little of. So a good majority of the land is left uninhabitable and definitely un-cultivatable. All this was brought about by a civil war between the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and the Mujahideen. The PDPA was supported by the Soviet Union. The Soviet involvement was essentially for the pro-poor and pro-farmer segments of the population which at the time was a vast majority of the country’s economic stability.
Many countries sided with the Mujahideen and gave them funding against the PDPA and the Soviet Union. This clash of funding and support consequently started the downward spiral of Afghanistan Agriculture. The country was divided on how it should be run, mainly through the influences of outside interference and the respective motives of those factions. As income is created through agriculture, a choice in the development of the industry can have widespread political, moral, and ethical implications. Without proper zoning of the land farmers are unable to establish property lines for their crops and livestock.
Only about 12% of Afghanistan’s total land is useable with only about 6% of it actually being cultivated. Out of this overall 12%, only 40% of this land is irrigated properly for farming. Getting uncontaminated water for irrigation is increasingly difficult. Refuges returning home, who left to escape the war, are contending with farmers for well rights and clean water. With the water contamination and shortage many people have moved from the rural areas into the urban areas where wells have been drilled to offset these issues. Only about 30% of Afghanistan’s actual water sources are being used due to contamination.
Overgrazing and the recent droughts have contributed to the decline of livestock population. Even with the crops now harvested, along with livestock, the production is only sufficient for about half the population. The United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 primarily to find Osama Bin Laden, who was the so called leader of the 9/11 attacks on the United States and to fundamentally dissolve the Taliban’s control of the government. Since the Afghan government has been reestablished, there has unfortunately been an increase in reported corruption from political officials and members of the military.
This only fuels the Taliban’s case for their control of the country. Much of this rift in the Afghan society stems from financial reasons. The moral and ethical decision of choosing sides between working form the country and working for the Taliban becomes overwhelmed by the simple motive of survival. The restructuring of the farming community is necessary for Afghanistan to turn its economy around and improve their living situation. Being a poverty stricken country, these issues make farming a very difficult choice, as opposed to fighting for the Taliban.
The lack of jobs or ability to create income is so widespread that the Taliban becomes the only realistic options for much of the Afghan population. The education system is developing, and other options are slowly becoming more readily available. The progressive education is a crucial part in the realization for the people that there are options besides farming or the Taliban. But even if they choose farming, they still have to decide if they are going to be legitimate farmers or grow poppy for drugs. Afghanistan’s main crops are wheat, rice, and corn.
They net the country a substantial amount of money each year but it is nothing in comparison to the poppy that is grown and sold in Afghanistan. Afghanistan accounts for 92% of the world’s opiates, and these crops only constitute approximately a quarter of the land that is currently being cultivated and farmed. The profit margins for these crops are so high that the security provided in the form of income is much higher for poppy than it is for any other crop in Afghanistan. The drug grosses about $2000 an acre which is unmatched by any other crop grown in Afghanistan.
Wheat generally nets less than one fifth of this amount. Out of that $2000, the farmer typically only sees about $850 dollars, however that is still a significant upgrade compared to $200 dollars if he grows wheat. There are other alternatives that are more profitable, but without the help of international aid most farmers don’t have the time or the funds to get those crops up and running. Promises were made to farmers about receiving the aid necessary to obtain seeds and tools to grow legitimate crops by the government.
In many cases this has not happened, causing them to revert back to poppy as the primary source of income. The involvement with poppy goes beyond just farmers. The corruption has spread to include all levels of the government, police, and parliament. One option that has been explored in an effort towards a compromise is the idea of using poppy for medicinal purposes. This potential compromise would allow farmers to keep growing poppy legally without the threat of being investigated, as it would have a defined purpose. Conclusion Afghanistan has endured some of the worst issues a country could possibly imagine.
From the early days of the Pashtun tribes, their entire economy has been based off of agriculture and farming. Much of the modern agricultural technology that the country has been exposed to has been used to produce poppy plants used for opium. Although this has been condemned by the Mullahs, their spiritual leaders, the Taliban keeps the farmers growing these crops. With the establishment of the Ministry of Water and Power, their government in recent years has done their best to try to create a more conducive environment for farmers to grow crops that will feed and provide income for the people.