The exodus of Afghan farmers exacerbates the rural crisis for Taliban rulers

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Afghanistan Update

Muhammad cultivated verdant land in Wardak province near Kabul all his life. This gray-bearded farmer manages apple and apricot orchards, wheat fields, and dozens of animals from cattle to sheep.

His livestock is gone, the orchard has dried up due to successive droughts, and Muhammad is now cutting down barren trees for firewood. “You don’t think they are farms. They look like deserts,” he said of his land.

The drought and economic crisis engulfing rural Afghanistan will prove to be one of the biggest challenges facing the country. The new Taliban ruler, International aid organizations worry that it will turn into a humanitarian crisis.

The solar wells that helped irrigate Muhammad’s land have dried up, as have two nearby streams. This year’s drought was so severe that Muhammad’s family could not drink water. “This summer, we decided to leave.”

His family is now scattered. His five sons have immigrated to Kabul to work as laborers, drivers or guards. He is considering traveling west to find a job as a tenant farmer on someone else’s land.

The rural areas of Afghanistan have a population of nearly 40 million in the country, accounting for about three-quarters of the country’s total population, most of whom rely directly or indirectly on agriculture. But repeated droughts are one of the consequences of a country severely hit by climate change, threatening the livelihoods and food security of millions of people.

Poppy cultivation poses a huge challenge to the Taliban © Muhammad/EPA/Shutterstock

Taliban Much of its foundation comes from rural communities, where their extreme conservative restrictions on women, etc., are more acceptable than cities. But because the country is facing the loss of foreign aid, inflation and cash shortages, analysts say that the Taliban are unable to cope with the long-term drought and large-scale poverty in rural areas.

The United Nations has warned of famine, one-third of the population is already starving, and many more are at risk.

“It’s not just a drought. Because of this political crisis, there has been such a large-scale inflation… Of course, you will have a liquidity crisis, and border trade will be closed,” said Ashley Jackson of the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank. .

“This is a perfect storm. Except for the drought, every factor that can help people survive or cope is deprived.”

Afghanistan is being hit by drastic changes in climate. According to a United Nations report in 2016, unstable spring rains and winter snow caused more droughts in some areas of the country and caused floods in other areas. The report warned that droughts would become an annual event.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stated that more than 80% of the country is experiencing drought.

Population pressure and decades of war have exacerbated this crisis. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s population has almost doubled since the Taliban ruled in the 1990s, and most of the fighting in the past 20 years has taken place in rural areas and fields-destroying crops, disrupting trade, and claiming tens of thousands of lives .

Afghan women carrying saffron
Afghan women carry saffron, but poppies require less water to grow and prove to be the lifeline of poor communities © Hoshang Hashimi/AFP/Getty

Haji Jan, a grape grower in the Shamali Plains near Kabul, recalled how business took off in the years following the US-led invasion in 2001, thanks to newly paved roads and refrigerated trucks, which allowed him to transport the fruits. Export to Pakistan. “Our business is great,” he said.

But as the conflict intensified, roads and even the canals that helped irrigate the fields were blocked. Since the fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan army has paralysed trade, this year’s harvest has almost failed. “There is too much insecurity,” he said. His best grape harvest has been “turned to ashes.”

The Taliban must decide what to do with Afghanistan’s most important crop: the poppy. Despite billions of dollars in eradication efforts, the cultivation of opium poppies has tripled since the US invasion. According to Philip A Berry, a researcher at King’s College London, it is the lifeline of impoverished communities and employs hundreds of thousands of people in the country.

The Taliban partly funded their insurgency through narcotics and vowed to ban opium poppy cultivation in order to gain international recognition. Berry warned that this might cause the rural population who were grateful for the end of the war to oppose them.

“All opium bans in the past two decades have shown that unless there is an economic alternative, any ban may be short-lived,” he said. “In this case, the new regime will lose support in rural areas and may face violent resistance.”

For Gul Jan, agriculture no longer provides any security. He still lives on the same land in Wardak district as Muhammad, but he no longer farms and works as a bus conductor in Kabul. The brothers who worked with him immigrated to Iran to work.

His apple orchard and apricot orchard are now the source of firewood for heating in winter. His family tried to keep the remaining trees in the soil alive by bathing next to them and allowing runoff water to seep into the soil.

But he admitted that their efforts were in vain. “They are dying,” he said. “We know they will die, so there is nothing we can do.”

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