Resilience and hope in the harsh landscape of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a country which has suffered greatly over the last 30 years. From invasions to social strife to religious extremism, this has compounded the already difficult environmental conditions that the agricultural sector must deal with in order to feed its 34 million people. The country is mountainous, the land is dry, its winters harsh, and its summers short, especially in the central regions. Food security, therefore, should be an extremely topical issue, and one of the many hardships Afghanis have to suffer. However, in my recent trip to Bamyan province, 20 minutes in a UN flight west of Kabul, the situation I encountered was a counter intuitive one.

Accompanied by my colleague Faheem Muhammad of the Pakistan office, our objective in Bamyan was to train plant doctors and develop a plant clinic system in order to help give good advice to farmers on reducing and controlling plant health problems, such as nutrient deficiencies, plant pests and diseases (stem borers and wheat rust being particularly common in these parts). The trainees, all district agricultural officers, belonged to the Agha Khan Foundation, and the Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. All had considerable experience in the area, and all were familiar with current local plant health problems. Our training was designed to develop infrastructure for a greater interaction between farmers and agricultural professionals.

Not only was the training, accompanied by a pilot clinic as a practical exercise, conducted in Bamyan town central bazaar, an overriding success, but I was subjected to a great, old and beautiful culture.

Bamyan is an old town, with 3 huge Buddha structures (16, 36 and 54 metres tall) that date back to the 7th century. Unfortunately, there only remains the outline nowadays, as the Taleban destroyed them in 2001. There are also ruins of a hilltop city sacked and destroyed by Genghis Khan. The most impressive sight by far in this region however, is Banda Amir, a series of lakes contained within a canyon, with great red mountains and the bluest water I have ever seen. The feeling of wilderness and isolation was truly overriding.

However, the most impressive feature of this entire trip was not the sights, nor the trip itself (aborted landings on gravel runways, Taleban attacks on Kabul); it was the people. A community, such as the one in Bamyan which has suffered so much over the last 3 generations, should not, by any logical conclusions, be as happy and content as I have witnessed over the last 10 days. It is hard to put into words how tough their lives are in this province, with temperature regularly reaching -25˚C in the winter and the Taleban a constant worry on the horizon. But they endure, and they smile. And that frankly, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about.

Signing off after an emotional, exciting, explosion filled night in Kabul.

Julien

Posted on behalf of Julien Lamontagne-Godwin, CABI Project Scientist, who is currently supporting Plantwise plant clinic development in Afghanistan.

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