Afghanistan launches tree planting drive

Posted: 19 April 2005

Author: Wahidullah Amani

Kabul is a drab, dun-coloured city, its formerly lush hills now lying bare under the harsh sun, the air thick with a fine, acrid dust. More than 20 years of conflict followed by a seven-year drought have decimated the city's greenery and left its residents gasping for oxygen. But now that could change.

In his address to the nation to mark the start of the traditional new year on March 21, President Hamed Karzai announced a major new green offensive, in which the government will sponsor the planting of nearly 4.5 million saplings this year.

The same day, United States Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad promised US$200,000 for trees in Kabul. Meanwhile, President Bush has asked Congress for an additional 10 million dollars for reforestation in Afghanistan.

The ministry of agriculture and animal husbandry has received a grant of $80,000 from the central government to plant the saplings. Deputy minister Ghulam Mustafa Jawad said that his ministry is committed to using only indigenous plants.

Local nurseries

"Importing from other countries does not work, because foreign plants may not be compatible with Afghanistan's weather," he said. "We have nurseries that have been growing saplings for the past three years."

Jawad added that there are now more than 70 government-supported nurseries, as well as some private ones that have sprung up.

"We will be able to get the four and a half million saplings domestically," he said.

Jawad said that his ministry has decided to plant fruit-bearing and decorative trees all over the country. In addition, the ministry will subsidise sales of fruit trees to private gardeners as a way of encouraging them to repair the damage done to their own plots of land by war and drought.

'Green girdle'

"This year we are going to plant saplings in eight areas of the hills surrounding Kabul, the capital's 'green girdle'," said Jawad.

Jawad added that the ministry has instructed its provincial branches throughout the country to protect the saplings against marauding animals and the effects of weather. The planting process is due to be completed this month (April.

Dost Mohammad Amin, head of the environmental protection department, said he welcomed the planting project and the positive ecological effects he hopes it will have.

"The only way to keep the air clean is to plant trees," Amin said.

According to Amin, last year Afghanistan received gifts of one million saplings from various countries including Pakistan, Iran and America. But 30 per cent of them died, unable to adapt to Afghanistan's harsh climate.

Wahidullah Amani is a staff writer for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting which supplied this report.