Today, Afghanistan remains the most heavily mined country in the world. Yet, over 80 percent of the jobs in Afghanistan are dependent upon agribusiness to lift the country up from poverty and create a stable government. It is a paradox to cultivate land for economic growth, with the fear of a landmine beneath the plow of the farmer.
The socioeconomic structure of a country’s food security is directly threatened because the land cannot be farmed; not because of natural causes, but because of the instruments of conflict. Roots of Peace focuses on engaging directly with ‘the people’ to reclaim their land and create economic stability for smallholder farmers, including women, by building sustainable agribusiness that is market driven and that provides farmers with economic and social stability to take care of their families. History has proven that people who have viable economic livelihoods don’t want to engage in war. Not only does this help the farmers, but it helps the overall stability of the country.
Over the past two decades, significant progress has been made in reducing the number of people that face severe levels of food insecurity. However, much work remains.
Currently, the world’s population is 7.7 billion people and by the year 2050, that number will grow to 9.7 billion. Every available piece of land is necessary to meet the food security needs of the people. Unfortunately, much of this land lays within former and current conflict and post-conflict regions. This is where Roots of Peace has proven to be a catalyst needed in transition from brutal impacts of instability to stability and hope.
However, implementing development programs start with winning the trust of the people and governments. Roots of Peace also starts from this premise. In Afghanistan, working side-by-side with farmers and the government, Roots of Peace has gained the trust of the people. As a humanitarian organization, we are committed to working with farmers, producers and traders to re-open markets in countries like India, Turkey and many more that remember the historical link with Afghan traders and their fine products who were once dubbed, “Kabuli Walas’—friendly Afghan traders! This vision of creating new markets in other countries has been demonstrated at Gulfood Trade shows in February 2020, when I personally escorted Afghan traders from Kabul to Dubai prior to the COVID-19 lockdown and global pandemic. The market connections were made, and there is a sense of hope as we greet the harvest season. This is true with all countries, and until we understand the geopolitical dynamics and history of a region, we are doomed to fail.
Our message of agricultural export accomplishments is often drowned out by stories coming out of Afghanistan focused on the longest war in America’s history, rather than the economic accomplishments that have been achieved in spite of the war. From a business perspective, Roots of Peace increased the export of fresh and dried fruits from $250 million in 2014 to over $1.4 billion in 2020. If we had frozen from The Taliban attack in 2014, these accomplishments would never have been made. With funding from USAID, our CHAMP (Commercial Horticultural Agricultural Marketing Program) increased the GDP of the nation, according to President Ashraf Ghani. With humble roots, our humanitarian organization has defined the ‘economics of peace.’ And, as I’ve always shared with our Roots of Peace staff, we must lead with faith, not fear.
Since my visit to Afghanistan in February 2020, the world has rightfully focused on COVID-19, and the virus has created new challenges for Roots of Peace across the entire agricultural value chain production, processing and export. What the virus has taught the world is that health is directly impacted by what we eat. And, as we clear the land of minefields, we create fertile grounds for farmers to cultivate and export to new markets. As we transform MINES TO VINES, farmers no longer must live in ‘Shelter in Place’ for fear of their children stepping on landmines, but they may have the dignity to feed their family and have hope in the future. While we have overcome a Taliban attack, we will also overcome the obstacles of COVID-19 and help provide access to new markets amidst a global pandemic.
This week, we are coordinating a ‘Harvest of Hope’ to export fresh fruits across contentious borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While there are political landmines on both sides, our humanitarian effort is seeking to bring fresh fruits to new markets on the borders of Torkham and Spinbaldak. It is important that these new ‘routes of peace’ are open, so that the fresh fruits transported by trucks do not perish en route. This is devastating for farmers to lose a harvest, as the economics of peace is desperately needed in these remote provinces to create stability for the country. While the U.S./Taliban Peace talks and treaties may be signed, once the ink has dried there must be pragmatic solutions for grounded peace through agriculture.
Recently, Roots of Peace has received an additional $30 million grant from USAID to achieve our goals, and an additional $40 million has been granted by INL and UNDP.
For the past two decades, we have planted over 5 million fruit trees in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan benefiting over 1 million farmers and families. We have earned the trust of the Afghan people through our business model for sustainable peace, and have replicated our agricultural programs in the most remote and dangerous regions of Afghanistan.
I believe our uniqueness comes from working with local people and learning from them, as much as they from us. We don’t talk at them, but with them. We view rural development through the lends of a client/customer, as opposed to a beneficiary who must to it our way, per se. Only through this mutual respect and trust can any of us hope to make a lasting difference.
Our vision is the create a worldwide movement to help bring economic stability and peace through agriculture for all children and families to thrive worldwide.
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