Farmers in Afghanistan’s top potato-producing province are complaining about declining profits, mainly because of cold weather, lack of storage facilities and bad roads.
Potato cultivation in Bamyan Province, central Afghanistan, employs thousands of people and output can top 150,000 tons a year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
“Bamyan potatoes are excellent quality and the province has strong potential to produce a lot more,” Abdul Wahab Mohammadi, an official of the provincial agriculture department, told IRIN.
But whilst the province produces more potatoes than it needs, over 70 percent of the people in Bamyan are considered food insecure, according to the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and aid agencies.
According to the January-June 2009 Afghanistan Food Security Outlook by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), 35 percent of Afghans are chronically food insecure, with Bamyan, Ghor, Daykundi, Badghis, Faryab, Samangan, and Sar-i-Pul provinces the main hotspots.
About 86 percent of Bamyan’s estimated 344,000 population earn a living through agriculture and livestock husbandry, according to a report by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.
Farmers and officials in the provincial agriculture department say every year thousands of tons of potatoes are lost due to a lack of facilities where potatoes and seeds can be protected from extreme weather conditions.
“I harvested 40 tons of potatoes last year but half of it was lost because of the cold weather, and I sold the other half at a very low price because I did not have anywhere to keep them,” said Mohammad, a local farmer.
The US Agency for International Development built 50 potato storage facilities in the province in 2008, but officials say they are sufficient only to protect 2 percent of annual production.
“We need more storage rooms,” said Mohammadi of the provincial agriculture department.
Poor roads prevent farmers from selling their produce further afield, including abroad.
According to the Ministry, 20 percent of Bamyan has no roads, and over 70 percent of all roads become inaccessible at different times because of snow, floods and landslides. Many parts of Afghanistan, including Kabul, import potatoes from Pakistan.
Agricultural production in Bamyan and other provinces is also prone to seasonal pests such as locusts which sometimes inflict heavy damage.
“Farmers will stop potato cultivation here unless the problems of storage rooms, transport and marketing are solved,” said Mohammadi.
Bamyan has been poppy-free, but he warned this could change if farmers found it too difficult to make a profit from potatoes.