Press conference with UNAMA and FAO

4 May 2009

Press conference with UNAMA and FAO

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Tekeste G Tekie, FAO Representative for Afghanistan and Dr Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good morning everyone and welcome to our press conference today. I am Nilab Mobarez from UNAMA’s Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit. Our guest speaker is Tekeste.G.Tekie, FAO Representative in Afghanistan who will update you on the agriculture sector.

Before handing over to Mr. Tekie I will present you a note from other UN agencies.

USAID and UNOPS providing 60,000 school children safe drinking water

Under the USAID-funded Kabul Schools Programme, UNOPS has recently provided for improved drinking water supplies at seven Kabul high schools through construction and repair of new and existing water wells, pumps, and storage tanks.

Laboratory testing has shown that all new and refurbished water supplies met the World Health Organisation standards for safe drinking water. These potable water systems will provide reliable and safe drinking water for more than 60,000 students, resulting in improved health and better learning opportunities.

The schools include: Abdul Ali Mustaghni Boys High School, Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai Boys High School, Abdul Qasim Ferdoosi Girls High School, Bibi Sara Girls School, Proja Jadid Girls School, Panjsad Family Girls High School, and the Mohd. Faqir Ferozi Boys High School.


Good morning, as you can see it is raining and this is good news for Afghanistan.
So today, I will talk about only good news. To begin I will give a general overview of the country and then move to region by region on the Crop (Wheat) and Livestock Prospect.

The figures on Crop and Livestock Prospect that I will give is a rough estimation. The full yield estimate will be carried out soon and be made available by mid May and a final report will be released by mid July 2009. However, at this stage I can say that the estimated yield will be 40 to 50 per cent higher than last year.

I will now go to region-by-region and start by Eastern Region.

Eastern Region (Nangarhar, Lughman, Kunar) : Generally the percentage of precipitation is better than last year.

The wheat-cultivated area is 10 per cent more than last year and the expected yield looks better than last year (2.9 Tons/Hectare) because of good rain. The reasons for increasing cultivation area of wheat are; high price of wheat, good precipitation and eradication of Poppy. Harvest will start soon in May. Livestock is in normal condition.

Western Region (Herat, Ghor, Farah, Badghis): Fortunately due to timely precipitation and good climatic conditions this year the winter wheat field condition is good and the spring wheat cultivation has already completed in low elevation areas while in high elevations of Ghor and Bodghis are either on track or almost completed within the famers plans. Increase in the yield is expected to be good, especially under rain fed area with significant growth of wheat, chickpea lentil and other crops. The water flow is quite enough in Hari Rod , Farah Rod and Murghab rivers so far. It seems the current year for livestock condition have been very good and better than last year. Rainfall during month of May for rain fed area is needed the over all crops and livestock situation in western provinces are excellent than last year, increase in area areas of cultivation is because of soaring of wheat price in the markets, and good climate condition but also utilising fertilizers and certified seeds.

South-West region (Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz, Uruzgan): The precipitation is sufficient this year for both; irrigated and rain fed cultivation in all southern region. Irrigation water is available for all crops and standing crops growth is higher then last year. The farmers are happy and they are saying that this year is a normal year and a year free of diseases at most part of the region and their standing crops is looking good.

North East Region (Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar): This region was much affected last year especially for rain fed areas. But this year due to sufficient precipitation high yield (roughly 30 per cent) is expected compared to last year. Luckily, no any serious damage of land and other agricultural challenges have yet been noticed. The livestock is in good condition in the region.

Northern region (Mazar, Juzjan, Suripul, Samangan, Faryab): Precipitation was sufficient this year and crops have been growing very well. The wheat fields are currently in spikes condition and both irrigated and rain-fed wheat crops are in better condition compare to last year. If you remember, also, Mazar and Samangan were affected by drought but this year is good. The livestock is in good condition compare to the last year.

All the good news is the result of the government efforts, farmers and many donors. The provision of seeds and fertilisers has made a good rainy season to be much better. Therefore, this calls for more investment in agriculture. If farmers use certified seeds and fertilisers and good plant protection which the government provided this year, it controlled locusts the prospect of Afghanistan achieving food security will be much higher.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and livestock (MAIL) the counterpart to FAO has five priority areas including: Agriculture Production and Productivity, Agriculture Infrastructure, Economic Regeneration, Natural Resource Management and Programme Support and Change Management.


RAHE NEJAT [translated from Dari]: You mentioned the good news but this is all because of the blessing of nature. But the farmers are suffering and complaining about the lack of the agricultural technology. Is there any assistance provided in this direction?

FAO: I agree with you that without the rain nothing can be done but this year much support went to farmers and government has contributed to the certified seeds meaning seeds that give very high yields. In addition, a lot of donors contributed to the purchase of fertilizers and the seeds. Water systems have been provided for farmers with subsidies of up to 83 to 84 per cent to the poorest farmers. This has helped a lot. Other donors like the Dutch government and many NGOs have also contributed in terms of providing certified seeds to the farmers and also fertilisers. So efforts have been made but I must say that this is not enough and a lot more needs to be done in order for farmers to get the necessary support they deserve.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Dari]: You mentioned about the increase of yields and I did not quite understand whether that applies to the wheat or other crops and fruits too. And the second thing is that farmers are complaining about lack of marketing. Has there been any assistance to solve marketing problems?

FAO: The figures I mentioned are for wheat because wheat comprises the 85 per cent of the production of the country. However the increase in yield will be true like barley, maze and rice which will be in the other follow up crop but because of good snow and the rivers have got plenty of water and without doubt there will be higher yields.

With regard to market of fruits and vegetable, this is where the problems of marketing come. Yes, the problem is there and there some efforts that are on going one that I mentioned earlier was the economic regeneration plan of the ministry of agriculture is meant to address this issue.

SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: Given the increase that anticipated in the coming year in agriculture field do you think the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock would be self sufficient and do not import wheat from abroad? And my second question is the Minister of agriculture said yesterday only 12 to 15 per cent of Afghan soil is cultivable and remaining 85 per cent can not be cultivated. Has there been any attention given to this issue?

FAO: The first question is a good question but also a tricky question. First of all I should say that it is the government or the country that will become self sufficient not the ministry. As I said earlier this is an estimation. We are going to have the final figures by mid May after the harvest. But if we say that in 2007 the country produced about 92 percent of its need. This year it is looking much better than 2007. Therefore, we could say that we may be approaching self-sufficiency but we will know for sure after we see the field checking.

The figures of 12 to 15 percent are true; however, there is sufficient land for agriculture, fruits and vegetable for livestock pasture. What we need to do here is to make agriculture more efficient. Now there are around 2.6 Million hectares under irrigation. It depends on. I will give you a very simple example. If we produce 2 tones per hectare, we will be getting 5 million tones. But if we raise it to three then we will produce 7.5 Million tones. So it is a matter of investing in agriculture, expanding irrigation, make sure that there is irrigation water in those areas that can be irrigated which is about half of this and to increase the yield by using certified seeds and fertilizers plus plant protection to fight against diseases.

SABA TV [translated from Pashto]: The problem is that the Oxfam have showed concern during the cultivation period that farmers do not have enough wheat to eat let alone cultivate for the next year.

My second question to UNAMA is that yesterday the SRSG Kai Eide expressed his concerns with regards to the election in particular with the registration process that one person has taken several cards. The other question is that some candidates say that the time given to register their candidacy is not sufficient and they are asking to expand this time. They have discussed this issue with the president too. What is the opinion of UNAMA in this regard?

FAO: I do not agree with you that there was not enough wheat to plant. In the times of drought, some farmers were forced to eat their seeds. Although farmers are very clever people and even in very difficult times they still keep their seeds. And fortunately our sister agency WFP was able to distribute a lot of food as well as the government and other agencies. But for those who did not have the seed, around 12000 MT of certified seed were distributed to the poor farmers. And another 7000 tonnes, which was of slightly better quality bought from the market. So in total 190000 quintals, which is enough, to cover about 170 000 hectares was distributed to farmers.

We want all farmers to cultivate certified seeds some years from now. This has been increased towards 12,000 MT last year and this year it will 16 to 26,000 and next year will be more and in four to five years want to reach something around 40,000 to 50.000 MT which will be roughly the annual quality seed needs of the farmers. And for this coming year plan has already started with the MAIL to buy from the current high production certified seeds for the next planting seeds.

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: As you are aware and you attended the press conference given by The SRSG Kai Eide and Dr. Sima of AIHRC in which they talked about the election and transparency of the election. It was also mentioned that if any problem rising during the process and was documented we will be outspoken about it. We want the elections to be fair, free universal and transparent enough. We call on all parties, to politicians and the supporters and the people and electoral officials to put all the efforts to make this election as transparent as possible. Observers will be also watching the election. I refer you to both the transcript of yesterday's press conference and the Code of conduct issued by the SRSG.

On the second part of your question, these issues are regulated by the Constitution and the electoral law.

RFE/RL [translated from Pashto]: You talked about the progress in the agriculture and a good harvest this year. Livestock rising is also a very important part of Afghanistan's economy, particularly the one belonging to nomads, so what impact will this situation have on livestock?

FAO: Obviously the increase of yield is good news for livestock, because they will get the by products in terms of straw, there will more straw for livestock. In addition, there is much better pasture, drinking water, water's levels are enhanced. In all aspects, it is good for livestock and so far we have not detected any disease coming from the more than normal rains. Therefore, it is a good year for livestock as well.

ROZ NEWS AGENCY [translated from Dari]: You mentioned about the increase in crops, could you tell us if there will be any decrease in the poppy cultivation?

FAO: I deal only with crops, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is the agency that deals with this [poppy cultivation]. My job is to increase agricultural productions so that farmers can see that it is more productive to engage in licit agriculture than in the illicit agriculture productions.

AFP [translated from Pashto]: Can you comment on General Fahim running as a mate with President Karzai in the upcoming elections?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: On this issue, I would like to refer you to remarks that Kai Eide the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan made yesterday at a press conference replying the same question. We do not further comment on this issue at this stage.