A large-scale Japanese irrigation project in eastern Nangarhar province has successfully transformed 16,500 hectares of land from barren desert into lush forests and fertile farmland over the past decade, according to reports from Afghan and Japanese officials.
The Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan, the Afghan Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and a number of international development experts visited Nangarhar province on Monday to inspect the progress made by the Green Earth program, which is concentrated in the Ghambiri desert of Shewa district.
Dr. Nakamura, the Director of Japan's Green Earth program, says that over the past 11 years Japan has helped dig 27 kilometers of canals, which are now yielding major positive changes in the ecology of the Ghambiri desert. In turn, the undertaking is expected to help spur development in the province's agricultural sector.
Asadullah Zamir, the Afghan Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, at a press conference on Monday at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul, indicated that the Green Earth program was already showing signs of success.
"In about ten hectares out of two hundred hectares of land in the Ghambiri desert, citrus plants have been cultivated; in eight hectares of land, olives have been cultivated; in 4.4 hectares of land, pomegranates have been cultivated; and in about two hectares of land, different kinds of fruits, like apricots, peaches and other fruits have been cultivated," Minister Zamir said. "A big area of this desert has changed to an artificial forest, which is very good for the climate."
In total, the Green Earth program is intended to transform 16,500 hectares of arid land into fertile, agricultural land. In addition to providing the environment for agriculture and livestock where there previously was none, the project has allowed for the resettlement of about 600,000 new residents.
According to the agriculture and rural rehabilitation ministers, Green Earth has provided crucial employment opportunities for vulnerable populations in a part of the country that is known for Taliban activity. Officials say the program has made it more difficult for insurgents to recruit from local communities.
The remarkable success of the Green Earth program has prompted the Afghan government to seek out further assistance in expanding similar programs to other provinces. "We ask Japan to cooperate with us and implement such projects in six other provinces of Afghanistan, so we can see the effects of those programs in the coming five years, too," Rural Rehabilitation and Development Minister Nasir Durrani said.
Mr. Hiroshi Takahashi, the Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan, has said that his country plans to remain a major donor to Afghanistan and will also try to continue irrigation programs. According to the ambassador, Japan has spent more than 5.5 billion USD over the past decade in Afghanistan.
"Of course we accept the request for six similar projects and I will pass this question back to my country, and if it happens, there will be no more problems in Afghanistan," Ambassador Takahashi said.
The Green Earth program was launched in 2003 in Nangarhar province. Since 2007, it has been financially supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).