Showing posts with label farming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label farming. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 31


Many appreciated Fear of Beauty, published in January 2013, because of the novel's hopeful message about characters in the midst of  a war against religious fanatics who imposed senseless rules and controls, often targeting women with prohibitions on employment, education and family planning.

But even in the darkest moments, the human spirit can persevere. Women use the available setting and tools at hand to satisfy the natural human yearning to learn and grow and improve.

So it's gratifying to read an article about women organizing small village farm unions in Afghanistan and diversifying crops, a development foreshadowed by Sofi's furtive work in Fear of Beauty. 

"The unions, in updating age-old agricultural traditions, have helped ensure a more reliable and diverse food supply in an often famine-struck region. In the process, the women who run the groups are finding new status and empowerment," explains Mujib Mashal for the New York Times, who describes farms adding cauliflower, tomatoes, beans, all kinds of vegetables in addition to wheat and potatoes. Such diversification boosts both economies and nutrition.  "The unions have put the women of Bamian on the front line of a critical struggle: the effort to shape a sustainable Afghan economy, away from dependence on foreign aid."
Foreign aid and the dangers of hidden agendas and over-dependence are also explored in Allure of Deceit.  

The article's descriptions of Afghanistan are reminiscent of those in both novels - from the narrow and winding roads against treacherous mountainsides as well as the descriptions of support and lessons on new techniques from the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, so similar to the novel's stories about the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

Do check out the article - the story is inspiring, and the photos will bring a rush of memories about fictional Laashekoh.  

Photo of Afghan village, courtesy of US Air Force, Master Sgt. Michael O'Connor,  and Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 19

Life is good

Nature and the fruits of labor from farming stand in formation, demanding our respect and attention and, like a beautiful choir, sing to us. Such are the late summer scenes off a highway in central Michigan.  (Photo by Susan Froetschel)

Monday, July 1

The Iris Farm

Every farm has a certain time of year when it offers pure delight. And early June is that time for the Iris Farm in Michigan.The farm small, at six acres, was once a cherry farm, but the soil, weather and birds pose constant challenges for fruit farmers in in northern Michigan. "Seventeen years ago, this fifth generation Leelanau farmer decided to no longer fight against the elements, and instead choose to embrace the offerings of his land," reports the Blog about the farming family of William Black. "The family noticed that the iris plants blooming around the farm thrived."

Smart farmers don't fight nature, and instead they study and appreciate its many whims. Today, the farm has more than 700 hybrids of Iris and several hundred of day lilies. The farm doesn't seem to have a website. Teh family doesn't do much advertising, but the two brothers are obviously delighted by the attention their new crop attracts. Passersby on Route M-72 recognize something special and slam on the brakes.

The genus Iris has about 250 species - and the name comes from the Greek word for rainbow. 

So of course, I strolled along the rows of colorful irises, searching for Iris afghanica or some variation, but of course, those are not well suited for Michigan weather. "Iris afghanica is a striking species," report Malin Rivers and Richard Wilford, science editors of  Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. "The slender, bluish-green leaves can be up to 30 cm long, though are often shorter, and the outer ones are sickle-shaped.... At higher altitudes the plants are more strongly coloured and only about 10 cm tall. At lower altitudes the flowers are larger and more softly coloured, and the plants can reach 25 or 30 cm tall."

The plant was noticed by an iris collector in 1964 and named in 1972.And it grows among boulders and on steep rocky slopes at altitudes from 1,500 to 3,300 meters - and likely might be found in the mountains overlooking the imaginary village of Laashekoh in the novel Fear of Beauty. 

Iris afghanica has been cultivated, Kew reports, but is rare. It thrives in hot dry summers and freezing winters - with little rain and the Kew species is in Kew House. Kew Gardens in London has 300 acres of wonder and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - with shopping is available online.   

So, Iris Farm has no Iris afghanica, but some other purple varieties will soon join my garden and offer memories well into the future, and I look forward to returning to Traverse City later this summer and retrieving my rhizomes.

Photos of the Iris Farm, courtesy of Douglas Olsen. Thumbnail photo of Iris afghanica, courtesy of Kew Gardens and Richard Wilford.

Sunday, March 17

Dry areas

 Researchers with the Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas studied gender roles in rural Afghanistan and found that women participate less than men do. Women are more likely to participate in livestock-related activities than raising crops.

Srinivas Tavva and five other researchers conducted interviews on participation in seven villages from Nangarhar Province and seven in Baghlan Province. "Age, social stigmas, poverty and shortage of labour influence the gender division of labour, decision-making ability and participation in Afghanistan's farm and non-farm activities."

We must wonder if this is especially true of dry areas. "Dry areas cover 41% of the world’s land area and are home to one-third of the global population," notes the ICARDA site. "About 16% of this population lives in chronic poverty, particularly in marginal rainfed areas. The dry areas are challenged by rapid population growth, frequent droughts, high climatic variability, land degradation and desertification, and widespread poverty."

In Fear of Beauty and its imaginary village with a more temperate climate, women did most of the work tending diverse crops and boys tended sheep and goats. As we have noted before, there are not many thrillers that focus on farming. The plot would have been impossible without women's participation in everyday farming tasks. As shown by the photo from USAID, the scenario of women doing farmwork is feasible. And the photo, with no location noted, does not appear to be a dry area.

And Olivier De Schutter confirms the feasibility of Laashekoh, too, with an opinion essay, "The Feminization of Farming," in The New York Times. The UN special rapporteur on the right to food explains that more men are migrating from rural to urban areas, leaving women behind to run farming operations, too often as unpaid work. The essay also points to work being done in Bangladesh, as represented by Mita, the aid worker in Fear of Beauty. The novel strives to represent globalization's many conflicts in a tiny and imaginary village of Afghanistan.

De Schutter concludes: "Recognizing the burden that the feminization of global farming places on women requires us to overturn longstanding gender norms that have kept women down even as they feed more and more of the world."

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and USAID.

Thursday, March 7


As the US withdraws troops from Afghanistan, nonprofits will be left behind, trying to monitor and protect human rights. Using threats or rumors, some conservatives who reject women's rights will try to chase off these nonprofit organizations. 

One dilemma for Afghans is the reliance on opium as a crop. The country is the world's major supplier and for some communities it's an economic staple. Community leaders worry about the loss of a major crop and also detest the complications, especially addiction, that come with growing opium.

The illegal crop provides little in the way of stability or economic certainty, not with foreign and Afghan troops working to destroy the fields. The loss of a harvest can lead to debt for families and early and inappropriate marriages for daughters - which are closer to trafficking than a partnership for starting families - explains Emily Simons for The International.

The International Organization for Migration monitors and issues reports trafficking, debt marriage and other issues of migration.

Sources for Simons suggest that "Afghan policymakers have yet to find a solution that will protect farmers' families while also trying to end the opium trade."

Neighboring countries can help by reducing subsidies on their own agricultural products and encouraging Afghanistan to diversify its harvests - growing pomegranates, saffron, wheat and more. The neighboring countries an than purchase the surplus legal crops produced by Afghan farmers, helping families and their daughters. 
fghan policymakers have yet to find a solution that will protect farmers’ families while also trying to end the opium trade. - See more at:
In its 2008 trafficking report on Afghanistan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) observed how deeply the practice of “debt marriage” is ingrained into Afghan society. According to the report, the practice of using women and girls for dispute settlements has been a part of Afghan society for centuries. - See more at:
In its 2008 trafficking report on Afghanistan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) observed how deeply the practice of “debt marriage” is ingrained into Afghan society. According to the report, the practice of using women and girls for dispute settlements has been a part of Afghan society for centuries. - See more at:
In its 2008 trafficking report on Afghanistan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) observed how deeply the practice of “debt marriage” is ingrained into Afghan society. According to the report, the practice of using women and girls for dispute settlements has been a part of Afghan society for centuries. - See more at:

Those who profit from opium and the old ways will resist new crops.

Another provincial reconstruction team project: With potatoes becoming  major cash crop, a father and son farm tend to the root vegetables in Bamyan Province. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the US Army.

Thursday, February 28

Helmand PRT

The Provincial Reconstruction Team described in Fear of Beauty is a small subset of the overall Helmand team. The novel describes a US agriculture group, whose security members also have another mission in the remote area around fictional Laashekoh.

The actual and overall Helmand PRT is a complex organization, civilian-led, with 160 staff members. The PRT is led by the United Kingdom, a multinational effort of the US, Denmark and Estonia.

The PRT, which for years has dispatched teams around the province, describes its goals:

"Success in Helmand, where the insurgency and drugs trade interact to create particular challenges, is essential for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Why we do it It is vital that Afghanistan becomes a stable and secure state that is able to suppress violent extremism within its borders. We cannot allow Afghanistan to again become a safe haven for terrorists." 

Fear of Beauty provides but a small snapshot and a few insights into the PRT work. Progress has been made. For example, Mercy Corps has trained 50,000 people in improved farming techniques.

Is the story of Fear of Beauty improbable? Not according to some US veterans and Afghan refugees. 

Photo of Helmand River, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and US military.

Friday, February 8


One doesn't hear much about the PRTs - the provincial reconstruction teams scattered throughout Afghanistan, providing education, technical advice and resources for agricultural and other endeavors. As the United States and other country withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the teams are heading home, too, but not before cutting ribbons on projects intended to help Afghan people into the future.

A PRT team and Farah City officials celebrated the completion of a demonstration greenhouse project -  "intended to connect Farahi farmers with new and innovative techniques to improve crop yields and profit margins," reports Lt. j.g. Matthew Strong for DVIDS, Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System. 

The greenhouse was a joint venture of the PRT; Abdul Manan Matin, head of the Farah Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; and US AID. The organizers hope the greenhouse as a model for farmers to use in building their own facilities and develop Afghan agribusiness.

Strong quotes Matin in his article: "I want this facility to be like a home for Farahi farmers... a place where farmers can come to learn new techniques that help them make more money and support their families."

Fear of Beauty focuses on an PRT agricultural team working from an outpost in northern Helmand Province.