Pam O’Toole / BBC News – 2008-01-05 01:21:02
(January 4, 2008) — Afghanistan is appealing to the international community to provide extra supplies of wheat to alleviate a shortage, an Afghan minister has said. Commerce Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang said the shortage could lead to serious problems during the winter. His call came amid rising discontent inside Afghanistan at the spiralling cost of wheat and other basic food.
Afghanistan does not grow enough wheat to feed all its people and is partially dependent on imports.
Mr Farhang made his comment in an interview with the German newspaper, Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung. “The situation is serious,” he said.
Kabul has come under increasing pressure to take action, amid rising grain prices on the international market. And the political crisis triggered by the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has led to a reduction in wheat shipments from Pakistan.
Some people also blame shortages on the fact that wheat is being smuggled out of Afghanistan to neighbouring Tajikistan. In some areas, the price of bread has doubled or even quadrupled.
“Food prices have gone up and no-one can afford to buy all the food they need,” said a resident of Lashkar Gar, the capital of the southern Helmand province. “A 100kg of flour is about 3,300 Afghanis ($67), and poor people will not be able to afford to pay this at all. The government should do something about it,” he added.
Helmand is one of the worst-affected areas – some say partly because local farmers have increasingly switched from growing wheat to the more lucrative opium poppy.
But the insurgency also plays a part. Worsening security limits the amount of aid getting to violence-torn provinces in the south.
There has been an increasing clamour in the Afghan press with columnists questioning why the government has not stockpiled supplies of grain.
This week, Kabul moved to ease concerns, cancelling a tax on imported grain until the end of the Afghan year, which ends in March, and reducing the tax on imported cooking oil. But some ministers say the situation remains serious.
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