National Geographic : 2011 Feb
Khyber Pass and the Tora Bora cave complex--- are notoriously lawless. With its Mediterranean climate, Nangarhar was Afghanistan's biggest opium producer as recently as 2004. Forced eradications began in 2005, but the government's promises of alternative livelihoods were not met initially, and even the provincial capital of Jalala- bad remained underdeveloped and quiet. Today the city and its environs appear to be a post-poppy success story. e fertile country- side, long regarded as Afghanistan's breadbasket, is alight with red cabbages and tomatoes. Jalala- bad's streets are now among the most vibrant in Afghanistan, and at its teeming wholesale mar- ket, hundreds of trucks arrive every morning, bearing dozens of crops such as watermelon, po- tatoes, squash, okra, and onions. None of these rival the cash value of opium, and one potato farmer I meet at the market tells me that he works an evening job as a security guard to make ends meet. "But I don't regret it---I'm glad not to be growing poppy anymore," he says. In the village of Yaghi Band, which once grew poppies almost exclusively, a group of tribal elders re ect on Nangarhar's post-poppy era in a room overlooking elds of cotton, rice, broc- coli, and other crops. " e life isn't as good as it was ve years ago," one of them says. "But it's 60 percent of what we had. And we're hopeful of the new projects." Among these projects is one situated directly below us: a hydroelectri- cally powered textile mill, set up by a USAID affiliate. Contributions to the province from such programs seem endless. Among those I visit are new irrigation dams and canals, new bridges, a women's weaving co-op, a potato chip factory, a honey processing plant, a jam manu- facturing facility, and the city's wholesale mar- ket, whose deputy director, Khwaja Mohammad, praises the contributions of NGOs but then adds, "Afghanistan is still at war. We can't stand on our own two feet. If a country's been at war for 30 years, it may take 80 years to rebuild it. If the farmers don't continue to receive assistance, promoting high-value crops like pomegranates and grapes, improving irrigation and building roads, or refurbishing markets such as this one in Jalalabad funded by USAID, which has helped farmers boost their incomes by 30 percent.