June 9 2008
Tackling Afghanistan's Food Shortage Crisis
Poverty has always been an obstacle to stability in Afghanistan, but current food prices have made this problem much worse. If the agriculture and technology advancements needed to make Afghanistan a self-sustaining nation are not quickly provided by the international community, Afghanistan's growing poverty problem could breed violence and possibly push Afghans into the hands of the Taliban.
Over the past 6 years, billions of dollars of aid have been allocated to Afghanistan, yet the country remains one of the poorest in the world. With an economy substantially dependent on opium production, 85% of the population relies on agriculture as their livelihood.
Soaring food prices, food shortages, price inflation, the drought, and a lack of seeds and agricultural technology are forcing millions of Afghans to be dependent on international food aid.
With 70% of a family's income spent on food, families throughout several provinces have been forced to sell their children to make ends meet temporarily. Widows and households headed by women are also vulnerable because they are forced to become beggars.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that "the global food crisis may degenerate into violence and further armed conflict." This disturbing prediction could become reality if international attention is not placed on long-term agriculture and infrastructural rehabilitation in Afghanistan.
Already food scarcity has bred violence. Afghanistan's neighboring country Pakistan has closed its borders to exports, as it also suffers from a food shortage and inflation, and is taking extreme measures to enforce the policy. Most recently, a 7-year-old girl carrying 6 lbs of wheat was caught by Pakistani border police and run over by a truck as a deterrent to other Afghans hoping to feed their families across the border.
Yet daily, Afghan children who should be in schools are forced to smuggle flour and other food from Pakistan, where the products are cheaper, into Afghanistan.
Rather than increased international pressure on the Afghan government to eradicate the growing cultivation of poppies, the international community should ensure sustainable routes are in place so Afghanistan is not long plagued by poppy cultivation. Advanced quality seeding, power and water supply, and capacity to maximize land usage should be viable substitutes for deprived Afghan farmers who currently have no choice but to turn to poppy farming as a result of a lack in agricultural development and an efficient irrigation system.
A strong agriculture sector that provides for storage facilities and marketing of products can reduce poppy cultivation and prevent those lacking the necessary means to grow alternative crops from turning to opium production. Building infrastructure and a strong agricultural market will also aid the Afghan economy and create jobs, which would be vital in a country with alarming rates of unemployment.
Receiving international assistance to the food crisis is only a short-term solution. In order for Afghanistan to secure its position as a democratic state, it must have a developed agricultural sector and infrastructure. It can only achieve those goals with the help of the international community. The rising food costs could further threaten the country's stability as poverty will breed violence and steer Afghans, particularly children, to al-Qaeda and the Taliban who will pay them to become suicide bombers or to set road side bombs.
Food security is an important part of a democratic Afghan government's stability. Afghans want nothing more than to be less dependent on the international community. Creating a viable, vibrant agriculture industry is a first step toward true independence for Afghanistan. Strong agriculture infrastructure will reduce the need of Afghans to turn to terrorism to alleviate financial difficulties. It will create employment, free youth from the burden of supporting their families so they can gain an education, and also prevent them from being recruited by terrorists. These developments would not only benefit Afghan citizens, but would improve stability in the region and throughout the world.
No nation will support the path of democracy if they are deprived of food and a means to support their families. It is in the best interest of the international community to help Afghanistan be a self-sustaining nation by investing in a reliable infrastructure and wide spread agricultural development to ensure Afghans are involved in prolonged success for themselves and their nation.