Economy & Development

Figure of the Day: US$ 100 m. (in destroyed orchards)


An Afghan government delegation has reported that ‘Afghan and foreign forces have caused more than US$ 100 million damage to fruit crops and homes during security operations in southern Kandahar province’. AAN’s senior analyst Thomas Ruttig remembers an episode last summer.

When a young Afghan visited our office last summer and told us about US troops handing out chainsaws to the Afghan police in several districts of Kandahar to cut down orchards in which Taleban were hiding, we were a bit doubtful and tried to double-check immediately. But apart from some general feedback of ‘yes, that’s happening’, without further detail, we did not get much. A military spokesman we were able to get hold of said something along the lines of ‘yes, it’s possible that working equipment was handed out but we really cannot control what the police are doing with it’.

Then there was a Washington Post report saying that ‘U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division […] seeking to clear out pockets of Taliban fighters [who] have seeded pomegranate groves and vineyards with homemade anti-personnel mines [as a result of which] several soldiers have been maimed […] over the past two weeks[, c]ommanders are wrestling with the option of razing some fields to remove the bombs, which would eliminate many farmers’ livelihoods, or assume more risk by leaving the crops untouched’.

Our colleague Kate Clark remarked in a blog than that ‘the idea that anyone might even think of destroying pomegranate orchards and vineyards so that IEDs or potential hideouts for Taleban ambushes can be removed and international troops made safer makes me want to cry’. But we still thought that’s all not good enough to write more extensively about it.

This apparently was a mistake, as the recent report by the Afghan delegation confirms (although we are really not in a capacity to confirm whether it’s a damage of 100 million or less or more). But what seems to be clear now is: The commanders’ wrestling match with that idea went in favour of their soldiers’ security and against the farmers’ livelihoods, and on a rather high score.

Maybe, the 150 million bucks some US administration chap I heard speaking in Washington last November has for the coming two years for ‘municipalities’ in Kandahar province would be well invested in restoring the ploughed-under orchards and fields. Although I am not a specialist on agriculture, I think I remember, though, that newly planted fruit trees take a couple of years until they bear fruit again, in particular almond and apricot trees which are so plentiful in southern Afghanistan. I do not know whether the Afghan delegation already has figured this additional loss into their sum of the 100 million. And of course it would have been better if the damage would not have occured in the first place.

I am also wondering what the US agriculture specialists brought in to Afghanistan through USAID and the ‘civilian surge’ would have to comment about that side of the surge they are participating in (some of whom, in early 2009 distributed fruit tree seedlings in Uruzgan a month too late in the agricultural calendar so that they ended up being used for lining the walkways in the local ANA base – after the cutting down of so many orchards I now see no reason to hold back with that ridiculous story anymore), and maybe Ambassador Eikenberry and the new AfPak representative Mr Ruggiero, the former regional head of US Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Southern Afghanistan.

Probably, they will refer to a press release saying that, as the Voice of America picked up just a few days ago, that not everything is bad and ‘Traditional Afghan Farming Gets Modern Twist’ now. Thanks to ‘the U.S. Department of Agriculture [that] recently announced a $38 million grant to assist [the Afghan agriculture] ministry with organization and training’. The minister is quoted in the same report that he is focused ‘on rebuilding Afghanistan’s agriculture, which has during the war been totally destroyed. From 1978 until 2001, every year 3 percent of agricultural production has gone down’. I am wondering now what the post-2001 figures are.
(*) source: Reuters, found at the New York Times website, check the full report here.

An Afghan government delegation has reported that ‘Afghan and foreign forces have caused more than US$ 100 million damage to fruit crops and homes during security operations in southern Kandahar province’. AAN’s senior analyst Thomas Ruttig remembers an episode last summer.

When a young Afghan visited our office last summer and told us about US troops handing out chainsaws to the Afghan police in several districts of Kandahar to cut down orchards in which Taleban were hiding, we were a bit doubtful and tried to double-check immediately. But apart from some general feedback of ‘yes, that’s happening’, without further detail, we did not get much. A military spokesman we were able to get hold of said something along the lines of ‘yes, it’s possible that working equipment was handed out but we really cannot control what the police are doing with it’.

Then there was a Washington Post report saying that ‘U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division […] seeking to clear out pockets of Taliban fighters [who] have seeded pomegranate groves and vineyards with homemade anti-personnel mines [as a result of which] several soldiers have been maimed […] over the past two weeks[, c]ommanders are wrestling with the option of razing some fields to remove the bombs, which would eliminate many farmers’ livelihoods, or assume more risk by leaving the crops untouched’.

Our colleague Kate Clark remarked in a blog than that ‘the idea that anyone might even think of destroying pomegranate orchards and vineyards so that IEDs or potential hideouts for Taleban ambushes can be removed and international troops made safer makes me want to cry’. But we still thought that’s all not good enough to write more extensively about it.

This apparently was a mistake, as the recent report by the Afghan delegation confirms (although we are really not in a capacity to confirm whether it’s a damage of 100 million or less or more). But what seems to be clear now is: The commanders’ wrestling match with that idea went in favour of their soldiers’ security and against the farmers’ livelihoods, and on a rather high score.

Maybe, the 150 million bucks some US administration chap I heard speaking in Washington last November has for the coming two years for ‘municipalities’ in Kandahar province would be well invested in restoring the ploughed-under orchards and fields. Although I am not a specialist on agriculture, I think I remember, though, that newly planted fruit trees take a couple of years until they bear fruit again, in particular almond and apricot trees which are so plentiful in southern Afghanistan. I do not know whether the Afghan delegation already has figured this additional loss into their sum of the 100 million. And of course it would have been better if the damage would not have occured in the first place.

I am also wondering what the US agriculture specialists brought in to Afghanistan through USAID and the ‘civilian surge’ would have to comment about that side of the surge they are participating in (some of whom, in early 2009 distributed fruit tree seedlings in Uruzgan a month too late in the agricultural calendar so that they ended up being used for lining the walkways in the local ANA base – after the cutting down of so many orchards I now see no reason to hold back with that ridiculous story anymore), and maybe Ambassador Eikenberry and the new AfPak representative Mr Ruggiero, the former regional head of US Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Southern Afghanistan.

Probably, they will refer to a press release saying that, as the Voice of America picked up just a few days ago, that not everything is bad and ‘Traditional Afghan Farming Gets Modern Twist’ now. Thanks to ‘the U.S. Department of Agriculture [that] recently announced a $38 million grant to assist [the Afghan agriculture] ministry with organization and training’. The minister is quoted in the same report that he is focused ‘on rebuilding Afghanistan’s agriculture, which has during the war been totally destroyed. From 1978 until 2001, every year 3 percent of agricultural production has gone down’. I am wondering now what the post-2001 figures are.
(*) source: Reuters, found at the New York Times website, check the full report here.

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Thematic Category: Economy & Development, War & Peace