Poverty in Bamiyan: A Man Working in Vain on Farms
It is early morning and the sun has just risen in the land of Salsal and Shahmama (two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan province) in central Afghanistan. A man has a sack in his hand and a shovel on his weak shoulder. He walks towards the fields in front of the destroyed Buddha statues. Towards lands where potatoes have been planted and crops have already been harvested. He starts shoveling in these fields. It is shoveled in such a way that it seems to prepare it for growing wheat or other agricultural products.
Ghulam Ali is 63 years old. He is poor. He also cannot find a job to support his family of eleven. He is the only breadwinner. His sons are still small and unable to work. “At this age, I go out to earn money,” he says. “It [potato] is not available.”
However, now is not the season for cultivation. All the crops have been harvested in the last month or two, but Ghulam Ali is shoveling the fields empty of potatoes in such a way that sweat flows from his forehead in the cold autumn weather of Bamiyan. With every shovel he pulls out of the ground, he is hoping to find a “seed” of potato. Potatoes may be hidden from the eyes of farmers while harvesting crops. Ghulam Ali, as he sighs desperately, says: “I take these frozen potatoes home out of misery to make a living. Awful life!”
The man lives with his family in a rented house in central Bamiyan province. He has to pay a rent of 1,500 afghanis a month, but he has not paid his rent for three months due to unemployment. The landlord told him to either pay the rent or leave. Finally, Ghulam Ali has to choose the second way; Because he has no money to pay the rent.
Ghulam Ali used to get a minimum wage. He used to take bread home at night, but now there is no job for Ghulam Ali. Out of desperation, he digs the fields from dawn to dusk in search of a few potato seeds to spend the night with his family. His hands and legs are full of smallpox and calluses. Blood clots in his hands and soles of his feet do not bother him. He makes a living with smallpox and will endure as much as he can and will not ask for anything in vain from others. He says that if he finds a job, he will do anything, but not much potato can be found in these fields.
This year, farmers’ yields were less productive due to drought and water shortages. The landowners have tried to collect the crops in such a way that not a single potato is left underground. Maybe this is also due to Ghulam Ali’s bad luck. Ghulam Ali wipes the sweat from his face with the back of his hand and says, “Misery has come. What to do? There is no cure.”
Years ago, when the potato harvest was high, peasants used to plow the land only once, packing the potatoes for sale and selling them to local traders. They kept some of its leftovers and debris to consume. This year, however, it is not so. Drought has severely affected farmers and landowners in central Afghanistan, including Bamiyan. Not only have the peasants not harvested well; Rather, many of them complain that in some cases they could not even gain the seeds they sowed on the ground at the beginning of the year.
Potatoes are one of the main agricultural products in Bamiyan, which are cultivated by farmers every year. The soil and climate of this central province are productive and suitable for growing potatoes. Hence, many grow potatoes. This important agricultural product of Bamiyan is well-known in terms of taste, size, and quality, and even has a special reputation abroad. Previously, more than 350,000 metric tons of potatoes were produced annually in Bamiyan. This year, however, there are no statistics. According to farmers, in some cases this year the potato crop has been reduced by almost half.
Poverty has affected everyone this year. The lives of countless people are in danger of starvation. The great humanitarian catastrophe caused by economic poverty and hunger lurks in more than half of Afghanistan’s citizens.
If Ghulam Ali does not receive help this year, he and his family are at risk of starvation and cold in the coming winter. According to him, after Ashraf Ghani’s escape and the fall of the previous government, working in Afghanistan has become impossible.
For several days now, to survive, he and his family members have been forced to dig up the fields that have been harvested. Now they have nothing to eat and are fighting hunger. This old man digs every day from sunrise to evening and finds about 6 or 7 kilograms of potatoes under the ground. Ghulam Ali may be able to spend a few more days like this, but this is temporary. As the weather cools and heavy snow falls in the coming days, it will become impossible to shovel the ground. In these difficult times, Ghulam Ali and hundreds and thousands of other families in Bamiyan are waiting for help from countries and charities.