Agricultural fairs have been a staple of the world farming community for more than a quarter-century, and officials say that the annual gatherings are more important to Afghanistan’s farmers than ever.
The pandemic and recent weather have wreaked havoc on farming in Afghanistan, where 80% of the population depends on agriculture for their income. As lockdowns were instituted, major trade routes were cut off, limiting farmers’ connections with outside markets. In addition, Afghanistan now is facing yet another drought that could devastate the growing season in some regions.
Agriculture fairs have been a significant mainstay in connecting local farmers with each other and with domestic and international markets for their goods. Many fairs were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, and officials hope that restarting the events will boost agricultural sales at home and abroad.
In late March in northern Kabul, more than 100,000 people visited a four-day agricultural fair where about 300 Afghan businesses showed off their products at stalls.
Officials know that it’s important to keep farmers connected and working in order to provide income and maintain a stable food supply in a country that has suffered for decades from frequent droughts.
Afghan exporters also have visited agricultural fairs in other countries this year in hopes of attracting more international customers. In late February, Afghan representatives took part in Gulfood 2021, the largest food and beverage trade show in the world, which was held in Dubai. Gulfood has been a boon to Afghan growers in past years. In 2019, nearly 30 Afghan producers signed more than $60 million in contracts at the fair.
This year, 85 countries were represented at the fair at the Dubai World Trade Center. The layout of the event was reconfigured to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, which included less exhibit space and larger hallways to allow for extra room for the thousands of people who attended.
The U.S. Agency for International Development also represented Afghan growers at Gulfood 2021, hosting five exhibits promoting Afghan nuts, spices, honey, juices, and dried fruit. The Afghan booth was placed in the main hall next to countries such as Russia and Italy, providing high visibility and convenient access for visitors. Tina Dooley-Jones, the mission director for USAID/Afghanistan, told a media outlet that the U.S. government was committed to supporting Afghanistan, which is making headway in regional markets due to its high-quality products.
“Expanding sales of Afghan products in these important export markets means better incomes for farming families, dignified jobs for Afghan women and men, and an improved trade balance for Afghanistan,” Dooley-Jones said.
Local Agriculture Fairs
In Afghanistan, agricultural fairs also are starting back up. The market in Kabul was recently featured in the news, and the participants who were interviewed said that events like this had been a catalyst for success in farming, inspiring them to build businesses and helping them to find buyers for their products. The Afghan government organizes this fair and others around the country to support agricultural trade and production.
Zarifa Rezai, who attended the recent fair in Kabul, said that she has been to several agricultural fairs in recent years and that they had inspired her to start her own business. She began by producing tomato sauce, jam, and pickles, and said she felt “satisfied” with her business’ growth. She now has about $32,000 in the bank and seven employees in her factories.
Another participant in the fair, Sayed Ahmad Hussain, a seller of honey, said he was proud of his business’ growth and employed about 50 people.
“I started my business as a beekeeper 10 years ago and have developed my business gradually and collect 5 tons of honey annually,” he said.
Little Rain in the Forecast
Following two years of good weather, parts of Afghanistan are poised to experience yet another drought in 2021. For the past 20 years, the country has endured a higher level of drought than normal. A moderate-to-high risk of drought is forecast for 2021. Over the years, the vital spring rainfall has become less consistent due to climate change, and a drought this year will stress Afghanistan’s already untenable food supply.
Afghanistan’s Herat province in the western region, which already is suffering from lack of rain this season, may be one of the hardest hit in 2021. In 2020, the precipitation rate was about 200 millimeters. In 2021, that rate has decreased to around 69 millimeters. Without enough rain, more than 200,000 acres of land will be unable to yield crops.
With forecasters saying that regular droughts could be the new normal in Afghanistan, government officials are considering other means for providing water for crops so that farmers won’t have to depend on rainwater. Currently, the government is looking into ways to provide irrigation system to farms in the Herat province through the Salma dam.