By: Bilal Sarwary 

Food prices are shooting up in Afghanistan as the harvest has been halted in the country’s breadbasket in the northern province of Kunduz, where farmers have fled fighting and fields are infested with explosives.

The war between pro-government forces and the Taliban has been intensifying in the north. Insurgents briefly took over Kunduz City at the end of September, the first time the group has controlled a provincial capital since being ousted from power in 2001. Thousands fled the capital and surrounding districts as the Afghan army, backed by American forces, fought to retake the area. Many have now returned to their homes, but farmers are still unable to harvest their crops.

“While retreating, the Taliban mined our fields with IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” said Haji Hashim Khan, a 57-year-old farmer in Chardara District, about 10 kilometers from Kunduz City. “The crop is ready for harvest but we cannot touch one fruit or vegetable.”

Kunduz no Longer a Breadbasket

With abundant waters from the Amu Darya River, a sunny climate, and fertile soils, Kunduz Province has been a main supplier to the rest of the country of crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, almonds, potatoes, tomatoes and watermelons.

According to Rabbani Haqiqatpal, director of planning and statistics at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Afghanistan produced 410,000 tonnes of rice and 4.9 million tonnes of wheat last year. Kunduz contributed 61 percent of the rice harvest and 12 percent of the wheat yield.

“Kunduz is a key agricultural province,” he told IRIN. “The fighting there in the past nine months has impacted agricultural trade in the whole of northern Afghanistan and its effect is now being felt even in Kabul.”

Prices rising

Afghanistan has been importing rice and wheat for several years and will have to import even more of the two grains in 2016, causing prices to rise, Haqiqatpal said.

Prices have already increased sharply in the market in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where rice is retailing at 120 afghani (US$ 1.80) per kg compared to 80 afghani at the same time last year. Wheat is fetching 30 afghani per kg compared with 20 afghani in 2014.

In Chardara and nearby districts of Ali Abad and Khan Abad, the usually bustling agricultural markets are shuttered as farmers have nothing to sell.