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News and Views

                                   The Big Secret about Food


By Excellency Mohammad Asif Rahimi

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock

If you did not go to bed hungry last night, you had better pay attention to World Food Day because more than a billion people suffer from malnutrition. And as food prices rise globally, more and more people will go hungry unless we listen, learn and act.

The United Nations, especially WFP and FAO, represents the world’s conscience on hunger, and on World Food Day they raise awareness. But through charity and technology they teach the world how to defeat hunger, just as their experts are helping us here in Afghanistan.

But there is a powerful secret about food -- food is more than just sustenance. When young people marry, their families unite over food. When warring parties come together, they agree over food. Ever since God made people, people gathered food or grew food and ate it together. 

Afghanistan suffers violence because a very small number of people are twisted with hate. Many more come from tiny farms that cannot support a family. So young men bear arms for food and later become brain-washed by anger and corrupted by violence.

Afghanistan’s path to peace, or a major part of it, is food. More food production and higher food quality lead to exports and new jobs.

A young man with a choice of well-paying jobs is less likely to choose a career in violence.

Five hundred years ago, the Emperor Babur commanded that an Afghan melon be brought to Delhi. He bit into it and wrote in his diary that he was surprised by his own reaction -- he began to weep. Today, our world is smaller. Transportation is cheaper and faster. Today, people around the world can afford to eat Afghan fruit that was once the treat of kings.

We are a poor country, but maybe Afghanistan’s path to peace is to make the world rich with our gold and rubies and emeralds. Our gold is apricots. Our rubies are pomegranates. Our emeralds are grapes. These are affordable jewels that people will pay for.

MAIL’s marketing experts say that shoppers in Dubai ask where their fruit comes from, and the grocers say Afghanistan. Customers give them business cards, saying ‘call me when the next shipment comes in. It is the best we ever tasted.’

Nobody knows the demand in India for Afghanistan’s expensive, thin-shelled almonds – because the Indians buy all that we grow and then ask for more.

Last week in Kabul, I helped open Afghanistan’s first juice concentrate factory. The equipment is the most modern in the world. Their product is the most hygienic in the world.  Already they have orders from India and Dubai, Canada and Europe. They have barely started operations and foreign demand threatens to exceed capacity.

Next year they will make juice from 25,000 metric tons of fruit and export 5,000 tons of whole fruit. Next year they will open a packaging plant and sell Afghan juice here in Afghanistan.

Juice raises the price for lower-grade fruit that cannot be exported. So farmers will sell more and earn more. The factory will buy fruit from 50,000 Afghan farmers and employ 200 people full-time, 75 of them women.

On World Food Day remember that Afghanistan’s future lies in food production, so our future can be as beautiful as the food we grow.

This year, Afghan cereal production more than trebled, taking us close to self-sufficiency in wheat. That was due to rain, but also God sent us a message to irrigate. Then we can have generous harvests every year.

From big projects on the Dalha Dam and the Amu River, to medium-sized programs in every province, to small irrigation works in every district – irrigation will cost up to $4 billion but the donors pledge to fund it.

Next, our farmers and small agribusinesses need honest, affordable credit. That would free them from growing poppy or borrowing money from gangsters. We have the funds. We are designing the services. Farmers can soon begin to borrow what they need.

Our rural communities need electricity to create businesses and jobs in order to process our food into value-added products that bring more profits home to Afghanistan. Along with economic benefits of electricity, a simple light-bulb in every home increases literacy, other education and health enormously, particularly among women and children. In 1930, America’s rural areas were not much different than Afghanistan today, but spreading rural electricity made poor areas into middle class communities in only a dozen years.

Afghanistan needs cold storage to extend the life of potatoes, onions and fruit, etc. Then, three months after harvest, we won’t have to buy it back from Pakistan at much higher prices. The Afghan government and Afghan businesses, and our foreign allies and their militaries, are building them now. For example, more than 100 cold stores should be completed in Bamiyan in November.


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