Where the Taliban laid mines, a Californian charity plants vines

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Abdul Satar, head of the shura (council) of Uzbashi, in the Bagram district of Afghanistan, calmly surveys the arid countryside near his village. Several years ago these fields in Shomali valley supported more than 120 varieties of grapes, providing income for the many families in Uzbashi and neighbouring villages.

Abdul Satar, head of the shura (council) of Uzbashi, in the Bagram district of Afghanistan, calmly surveys the arid countryside near his village. Several years ago these fields in Shomali valley supported more than 120 varieties of grapes, providing income for the many families in Uzbashi and neighbouring villages.

The vines were destroyed, however, and landmines planted on their soil by the Taliban, which applied a "scorched earth" policy during the conflict with the Northern Alliance. Mr Satar and nearly 1.8 million other Afghans were forced to flee, some seeking refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. When they returned their vineyards had vanished. In their place were mines, and there appeared to be little hope of farmers re-establishing.

"Before the war, everything was okay," Mr Satar said. "But when I came and saw everything was destroyed, agriculture is not good and there is no water, [wells] are not working and the trees are dry, I was upset and I was angry."

In its heyday, the Shomali valley was so well established that some vines were transplanted to California in the late 1960s, aiding its then fledgling wine industry. Returning the favour, it is a Californian group that will help these vineyards to flourish once again under a program called Mines to Vines.

A consortium that includes Roots for Peace, a non-profit organisation based in California, was recently awarded a $10m (£5.5m) contract by the US Agency for International Development to restore table grape and raisin vineyards in areas once riddled with landmines.

During the summer of 2003, Roots for Peace, which also raises money from California wineries, funded 315 Afghan mine-clearers, who removed more than 100,000 landmines and other remnants of war. The organisation also plans to resurrect the battered irrigation system in Shomali. It has already cleared the main Parwan canal in the region.

The Afghan Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development is doing little to repair this once-efficient irrigation system. With signs of a coming drought threatening parts of Afghanistan, villages all over Bagram still suffer from lack of water.

Although Mr Satar has registered his village's plight with the government, the work planned by the Roots for Peace may prove a better bet for his village's future.

After the vines are replanted, it will take between five and seven years before a successful harvest, assuming enough water can be made available, but vines are resilient plants. Even after being burnt to their roots, some of the vines have reshooted.

Abdul Satar remains optimistic. Replanting has already begun, and in the interim period before the first harvest villagers are planning to grow wheat, fruit, and vegetables to keep their families fed.

"This is our hope, and our dream to reconstruct our village and in every way, agriculture, houses, water," Mr Satar said. "We look to ourselves to work on it. That is why we came back."

Comments