The war in Afghanistan may be over, but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab Valley face a new enemy: drought.
It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are wondering how long they can live off the land.
Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm with his father and grandfather in Arghandab District, Southern Province of Afghanistan. Famous for its fruits and vegetables, the area is known as the Kandahar Bread Basket.
Like most of the inhabitants of the valley, Rahim’s family depends solely on agriculture. “The fighting has just ended. Peace has returned, ”says Rahim. “But now we are facing another war: drought.
“Now we have to dig deep to pump the water out of the ground. It’s been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our future generations can count on agriculture as our ancestors did.
Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not that long ago, there were water supply channels on the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, water ran after us, flowed everywhere – but now we run after water.”
The water came for free from the river, but now the daily cost of diesel for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£ 21).
“We are not making any profit. We are rather at a loss. Instead, we use our savings. But we have no other option because we are doing it to survive, ”says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has also affected the quality of crops.”
About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drought.
Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, noted severe drought affected 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will increase malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.
Arghandab has been a popular destination for agriculture due to the abundance of water and fertile land. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left Dand District in Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. Upon arrival, he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.
“It used to rain a lot here and we couldn’t cross the river and enter our farms. We have had a life with plenty of water. But the past is another country now, ”he says.
Many local farmers have been caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, according to a report from the UN mission in Afghanistan. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.
“For the past 20 years, we had no peace and could not work after dark on our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear, ”explains Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just to restore peace, but the drought and the escalating cost of basic commodities. “
Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and help from the new Taliban-led government to help them survive.
Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.