I was reminded of the realities of poverty and drought this week.
Engineer Ammanullah, the head of office for the Faryab Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (RRD), took me out to Qata Qala to visit a village that is not currently part of the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). I am using the NSP as a case study of participatory development, and already have 3 NSP communities in Pashtun Kot district who have agreed to work with me. But it is important that I have a 'control' village of sorts in order to see more clearly the impacts of the NSP. Thus the purpose of the visit to Qata Qala was to see if Ahmadabad, this village without NSP, would be interested in working with me.
Remember that I live in a pretty poor area already--Faryab province is a severely deprived area, with malnutrition and communicable diseases running rampant. Maymana city itself is undergoing infrastructural development to an extent, and it seems there is a middle-class emerging who are able to renovate their homes. However, the drought has hit the city inhabitants, in addition to those rural dwellers, quite hard. The working middle-class who have incomes are able to enjoy the benefits of living in a city with greater market trade and improved infrastructure. However, for pastoralists, agriculturalists and the jobless, increasing market prices render even everyday items such as bread, rice and oil completely out of reach. With no money for fresh food, people in Maymana are buying leftover bread that is normally fed to animals. With winter approaching, many people are having to choose between fortifying their homes against winter elements or buying food.
And so, it is from this already harsh context that I travelled up into the mountains to visit Ahmadabad village. Ahmadabad has seen no development projects or foreign funds at all. Ten years ago most families moved from high up in the mountains to this current location where they bought land from a private landowner. They explain that the previous location was too harsh to sustain life as there was no water and the weather was very difficult to survive. Looking southeast from the current village, we could see the old village location, with house structures and compounds slightly visible. Apparently there are still some families living there. They were not able to purchase land at the new location, and so remained up in the mountains. So, those families who moved to Ahmadabad's current location where those who had stronger economic situations.
But the current drought seems to have wiped out most forms of capital they may have had. Hajji Ahmad, the village arbab (village leader) explains that despite there being plenty of arable land around and a river running in the middle of the village, people cannot afford to cultivate. Bulls for ploughing, seeds and fertilizers are beyond the reach of most. A downward spiral has been created by the failure of crops, such that there has not been enough production to take to the market, thus there are no funds to reinvest in the land. The land you see below will sit dry and fallow for this year.
We saw one man with two bulls ploughing his land. We asked Hajji Ahmad if these bulls can be shared around the village so that other people can perhaps have an opportunity to prepare their land. His answer was no, as feeding the bulls is too expensive for most, nevermind buying the inputs required once the land is prepared.
Hajji Ahmad explained that when he eats lunch he does not have enough food to eat dinner. Please remember that an arbab is usually someone with title and status in a village, someone who owns more land, a leader. If Hajji Ahmad, as an arbab, is lacking sufficient nutrition, how are the other village members holding up?
I am pleased that Hajji Ahmad is allowing me to conduct research in Ahmadabad, but I can't help but feel ill at ease about studying these people's hardship without bringing relief myself. I take solace in knowing that the NSP will come to Ahmadabad, but I fear for their suffering throughout the long winter to come.