January 21, 2008

If It's Good Enough For Kansas

It should be good enough for Kandahar. Over at The Seminal, Alex Thurston discusses farm subsidies as a way to combat opium growing in Afghanistan.

While I have serious issues with crop subsidies as practiced in the US, none of the other near-term solutions for Afghanistan are going to do even a bit of good. If down the road, a vibrant Afghan farming sector started producing food in such quantities that the subsidies began to pose the indirect danger of putting other farmers in the region out of business, I think that's a problem we'd all rather have.

Still, if this were really going to be tried, you'd need to transfer more than seed and fertilizer. The landscape in Afghanistan is, by many accounts, quite denuded and the topsoil is likely in bad shape in many places. What you'd need for true sustainability is a bevy of permaculturist extension agents to go in and help them farm in ways that would begin the process of restoring the land.

Farming can be a nominally low tech activity, but it can require sophisticated knowledge and foresight in order to make it work as desired. Not to disparage the knowledge of Afghan farmers when it comes to tending their own land, but their country has been scoured for firewood (heavy deforestation always results in erosion, that's not even really up for debate) and hasn't produced sufficient food for its population for a long time, though part of that is likely due to displacement of food for poppies. Further, it isn't a country in which 'sustainable' farming is going to include farming that requires the ongoing purchase of expensive chemical inputs, or the continual repurchase of hybrid or GMO seed that can't be saved from year to year.

Industrial agriculture as practiced in the US can't be transferred to Afghanistan, and if it were, it would have to be executed by farmers acting as vassals to multinational agribusiness conglomerates. Like our farmers do. In a country where the rural population lacks both widespread literacy and viable urban job opportunities, the additional displacement from the land embodied in "get big or get out" agriculture would be insult on top of injury.

Though again, all said, it sounds like an idea worth trying. If, that is, the drug-running warlords who sell the farmers' opium crops abroad wouldn't subvert the process. Sort of a big If.

Posted by natasha at January 21, 2008 08:47 AM | International | Technorati links |

Farming can be a nominally low tech activity, but it can require sophisticated knowledge and foresight in order to make it work as desired.

Every journey starts with a single step. I propose we start by sending every Afghan farmer a compost bin with instructions on how to use it.

It's a lot cheaper than just paying him to not grow poppies. And compost bins don't kill American soldiers or innocent Afghans, either.

Posted by: MikeInOhio at January 21, 2008 09:28 AM

The Afghan (and now Iraqi) farmers should be allowed to grow opium and sell it to the pharmaceutical companies, who are desperately trying to fill prescriptions for narcotic medications, especially here in the US. Go ahead and legalize the production for prescription medications. In return, PhaRMA should reduce costs of other medications on the market as a thank you.
really, I'm sober.

Posted by: Cowboy Diva at January 23, 2008 02:21 PM