Listen to Otto Gonzalez's interview with NPR.About the Author: Otto Gonzalez serves as Senior Agriculture Advisor in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Agriculture is not always first on peoples’ minds when they think of international affairs or winning the war in Afghanistan. But for our civilian efforts in Afghanistan, agriculture is our top non-security priority. As President Obama said, "We will ... focus our assistance in areas - such as agriculture - that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.”
With 80% of the population dependant on the agricultural sector for its livelihood, Afghanistan’s ability to stabilize depends in large part on the Afghan people having confidence in a future that has jobs, income, and provides them the ability to feed their families.
And to help build this confidence, for the first time, the United States has a unified Agriculture Assistance Strategy. Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul hosted a one-day conference for U.S. Government agricultural specialists from around Afghanistan to disseminate this strategy and to discuss the way forward on implementation. This strategy is aligned with the priorities identified by the Afghan Government and will guide our efforts in assisting Afghanistan to re-develop its agricultural sector.
The Afghan Government, last year, established its National Agricultural Development Framework, which identified key priorities for the country, including increasing irrigated land, improving access to farm credit, creating a transparent land lease process, promoting agribusiness education and building cold storage facilities so that harvested produce not immediately transported would not go to waste. Our Agricultural Assistance Strategy seeks to support these efforts, increase agricultural jobs and incomes and improve the Afghans confidence in their government (in particular the Agriculture Ministry).
Despite Afghanistan’s harsh environment, we know that Afghans have been and can again be successful farmers and herders. After all, Afghanistan has a legacy of producing grapes, pomegranates, dried fruits, and nuts that if produced in sufficient quantity and quality can help in revitalizing export of those products. We have seen examples of this already. In speaking to the attendees at the U.S. Embassy-hosted conference, Afghan Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Mohammad Asif Rahimi noted that Afghanistan, this past year alone, had exported, 25,000 tons of fruit juice and 50,000 tons of pomegranates, in addition to the recent export of apples to India. This was done with U.S. government technical assistance.
The agriculture sector provides us a direct path to reaching the Afghan people and assisting them with things that matter most, improving their daily lives and hopes for the future, and giving them confidence to reject the extremists. As Agriculture Minister Rahimi said, “The Afghan people will begin to see a difference and will demonstrate their appreciation with the spread of peace.”