Afghanistan imports of chicken and cattle have exploded between 2002 and 2011, according to the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation. Chicken meat imports rose from 1,068 tonnes (t) to 51,004t, while cattle meat grew from a mere 85t to 2,660t, according to the FAO.
Imports of poultry, with 75%-80% coming from the USA, are likely to have increased in 2013 (figures are not yet available) and will grow in 2014, said the FAO. In 2012, total US poultry exports to Afghanistan were valued at US$32.3 million, 4% up from 2011.
While Afghanistan statistics can be unreliable and sometimes contradictory, they indicate that Afghanistan’s meat production has declined in the past decade, despite the relative political stability. The FAO says chicken meat production fell 8.23% (from 23,782t to 21,824t) from 2002 to 2011. At the same time, cattle meat production fell 7.92% (149,870t to 138,002t), while goat meat production fell 2.78% (46,800t to 45,500t).
But the FAO also said that, from 2002 to 2011, Afghanistan’s livestock numbers rose from 12,156 to 13,378 chickens; 3.72 million to 5.52 million cattle; 7.28 million to 7.63 million goats; and 8.77 million to 14.26 million sheep. And it said Afghan sheepmeat production has boomed, growing 60.44% from 72,000t (2002) to 115,520t (2011).
However, a 2012 ‘Agricultural Prospects Report’ from Afghanistan’s ministry of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, estimating production for 2012, showed different numbers: beef - 61,900t; mutton - 40,900t; goat meat - 34,300t; and chicken - 8,800t. It also estimated production of livestock products to be up 5% in 2012 compared to the previous year.
One consensus however, is that imports are up and the Afghan sector is failing to meet local demand fuelled by meat-based eating traditions. Demand has also been inflated by the presence of a large number of foreign soldiers, aid workers and job-seekers and unprecedented levels of international assistance that have fuelled economic growth.
The Afghan economy has always been agricultural despite only around 12% of the land being arable. Animal husbandry uses large tracts of natural pastures, estimated at 7,500,000 acres in academic studies by Afghan livestock specialists Dr Catherine Schloeder and Dr Michael Jacobs. Nomadic animal herders, known locally as ‘kuchis’ and belonging to the majority Pashtun ethnic group, constitute only 5% of Afghanistan’s population, but provide nearly one-third of the livestock to the country’s markets. In particular, they specialise in raising sheep and, according to an estimate, contribute at least 75% of the small ruminants to the Afghan markets, say Schloeder and Jacobs.
Much of Afghanistan’s livestock was shifted to neighbouring Pakistan and Iran as millions of Afghans, mostly from rural areas, migrated there due to the Afghan civil war, which came to a culmination after the 11 September attacks and the American-led military response.
Since 2002, refugee organisations say more than four million Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan, Iran and other countries after the fall of the Taliban regime in winter 2001-2, although more than 1.6 million refugees registered by the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) still remain in Pakistan, along with their livestock.
However, the return of the bulk of Afghan refugees increased livestock production in the short term – although FAO figures indicate this has not been sustained. One problem could have been recurrent droughts that have affected the country.
Aid organisations have tried to help. Some foreign-funded projects have been undertaken to boost livestock production in order to meet the demand for meat and dairy products. For instance, the USAID agency has tried to boost veterinary services.
An ‘Accelerating Sustainable Agriculture Programme’, which ran from 2006 to 2011, was to support the development of private veterinary field units and ‘agriculture input depots,’ or ‘AgDepots’ – a network of privately owned rural farm stores established by USAID to provide farmers with agricultural supplies and equipment at affordable prices.
The programme, with a budget of US$100m, "boosts agricultural and livestock productivity by supporting private businesses... that offer quality inputs and services and by demonstrating new technologies and improved agricultural and livestock methods", according to Afghanistan’s ministry of agriculture, irrigation, and livestock.
One sector with potential for growth is Afghanistan’s poultry production, which was expected to grow in 2013, according to the FAO. It noted that imported frozen chicken performs especially well and is cheaper than other meats in the Afghan urban marketplace. Imports generally consist mostly of leg quarters (80%) and whole birds (20%).
There is less optimism regarding the beef cattle segment, however. Interviews with Afghan butchers in Jalalabad, between Kabul and the Pakistan border, explained the degree of their dependence on smuggled Pakistani animals. Abdul Jawad told GlobalMeatNews that the ban on cattle exports imposed by Pakistani government has forced them to smuggle the animals in vehicles driving through unfrequented routes and costing PKR22,000 (US$210) per animal. "Due to the scarcity of big animals in our country, we take the risk and get the animals from Pakistan after a hazardous journey," he said.
Hameedullah Qasab said he bought animals in the weekly fairs held in nearby Batikot and Kama after they had been transported from Peshawar. "We have been given a price list by the Afghan authorities, but cannot earn a profit selling buffalo or cow meat if we sell it at the listed price," he added. Another butcher, Farooq, said he was getting the animals from Peshawar and selling the meat in his shop in Jalalabad. "Afghans eat the meat and export the hides to Peshawar," he revealed.
On occasion, Pakistani border authorities managed to recover up to 500kg of meat from slaughtered animals expertly hidden in passenger vehicles to be smuggled to Afghanistan via the Torkham border crossing. However, controlling the smuggling is well nigh-impossible due to the porous 2,500 kilometres-long Durand Line border linking the two countries.