Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Seeds for Afghanistan

Seeds for Afghanistan
By Jennifer Heath, with photography by Sheryl Shapiro

We're riding along the Shomali road north of Kabul, Afghanistan, with a van full of seeds and engineers.

This highway was once called "The Green Tunnel," there were so many trees lining it on both sides. In 1979, as Soviet tanks trudged toward Kabul, they knocked them down, every one, for fear of mujahidin snipers. This is farm country: vineyards and wheat and orchards or fruit trees for family use shading the fields from the hard arid summer sun. In the 1990s, the Taliban, mostly Pakistanis, with young fundamentalist-trained Afghans in tow, came up from the South to conquer Afghanistan and in the process ripped all the grapevines and small fruit trees out by the roots to send back to Peshawar. They burned the homes and villages nearest the Shomali road. We drive past stubs of scorched vines here and there that the Taliban missed, past ruins of mud-brick buildings that now look like rock formations in Moab.

There are few trees left in Afghanistan. War combined with abject poverty contributed to an almost absolute deforestation throughout the country. The capital city of Kabul, the prize for all the brutal factions fighting across twenty-three years of war--once pristine, clean, full of glorious pines and spruce--is today a dusty landfill, a dump with tall empty dried trunks, few gardens, and none of the exquisite flowers that Afghans love. There's not a shrub left in what was once a magical, fragrant Land of Lilacs.

As if this weren't enough, Afghanistan has suffered a five-year drought and the famine that goes with it. War is a major cause of environmental destruction, worldwide. In post-war Afghanistan, the water is polluted, the climate changed by the constant heat of bombs and fire, and animals die or flee. It was a joy, and a surprise, just to see doves and magpies, to realize they had somehow survived.

I am an American who grew up in Afghanistan. I've been involved with that country's fate, one way and another, for decades. When the United States began bombing the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, I saw, as did many Afghans, the opportunity at last for reconstruction. I am by profession a writer, and by passion, a gardener and environmentalist. So it was natural for me to think immediately of Seeds for Afghanistan. I put a call out through the internet, to friends and family by e-mail, made flyers and distributed them everywhere, and alerted the newspapers to my project. I asked only this: bring me seeds-- vegetables and flowers, anything that will grow in Zone 4, and I will see to it the Afghans receive them.

Of course, I had no idea how, in fact, I would get the seeds to Afghanistan, but as a believer in the "if you build it, they will come," theory of living, this seemed like the least of my worries.

Read the rest at http://www.seedsofchange.com/enewsletter/issue_35/afghanistan.asp

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