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War-torn Afghanistan Needs To Produce More Food

Afghanistan, where WFP has one of its largest operations, is still a long way from being able to feed itself. WFP Country Director Stefano Porretti talks about the challenges of working in Afghanistan and what new responses WFP is bringing into play.

BACKGROUND: Afghanistan is one of WFP’s largest operations.  The country faces enormous recovery needs after more than two decades of war, civil unrest, and recurring natural disasters. There has been progress, but millions of Afghans still live in severe poverty with a crumbling infrastructure and a landscape that is riddled with mines. Despite growing insecurity, WFP aims to provides food assistance to 8.8  million Afghans in 2009.

What are the major challenges for WFP in Afghanistan over the next couple of years?

This country is a structural food deficit country prone to natural disasters, and it is a very young democracy.  The combination of these elements makes Afghanistan extremely fragile. We also have to be aware of the security situation both in Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries. These are the three major elements that we have to look out for and we have to be prepared for.

In terms of food preparedness, what challenges are there?

For 2009 we have to watch the harvest very closely and hope that it will yield more than last year’s which had a deficit of a third of the expected crop due to a drought.

This year, WFP is launching some new activities here – can you tell me a bit about those?

We are trying some new initiatives as pilot activities, such as buying locally through Purchase For Progress, in terms of food transformation. Also, a voucher programme designed for urban areas will begin in Kabul first. There will also be additional nutritional support to the most vulnerable people.  Apart from these and other ongoing programmes, we will work with the Government of Afghanistan to enhance their capacity in terms of vulnerability assessments and food security analysis.

What were your first impressions when you arrived in Afghanistan ?

From a geographical perspective, it was the number of mountains and hills surrounding Kabul which I was not prepared for coming from a place which is flat. Also, it was the ability to move more or less freely within the city and to visit other areas , which is something that was almost impossible and sometimes  forbidden at the time I was Country Director for Iraq.  And the cold, in the beginning I was not used to the cold, after over 20 years mainly in Africa!