Gardening the Last Resort for a Better Afghanistan??

by Trilok Kapur on  March 13, 2010 at 11:28 AM Lifestyle News
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Gardening is perhaps the only solution left in the search of a better future for Afghanistan that world leaders have not yet considered.

A British scientific institute is planning to set up a botanical garden in Kabul where future generations of green-fingered Afghanis will be able to appreciate native plants and learn horticultural skills.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), which dates back to 1670, is working with Kabul University's agricultural faculty to establish the project on a four-hectare (ten-acre) site in the capital.

Experts from the RGBE have visited Kabul to advise on the garden, which they hope will one day play a small part in helping Afghanistan emerge from decades of turmoil.

"We see great potential in this," said Matthew Hall, a botanist at the Scotland-based RBGE.

"It will promote plant diversity, which underpins all ecosystems and is fundamental to any country.

"The university is very enthusiastic, and we are discussing ways that we can bring our institutional expertise to help it build up a small botanic garden."

The site will be open to the public and also function as an education centre where the plant life of Afghanistan can be scientifically categorized and studied.

"We want to increase the local capacity for research work," Hall said. "Gardens are very important and when you get people coming to visit they soon support what you are trying to achieve.

"Obviously the situation in Afghanistan is uncertain but we intend to focus on basic training and field techniques."

The patch of land where flowers and trees may soon flourish is uncultivated rough ground at the moment, but greenhouses and flower beds are being sketched out.

Mohammad Yasin Mohsini, dean of the Kabul University's agriculture faculty, said the garden would be a popular asset to the campus and an essential resource for students across several disciplines.

"The plan is under way but is far from being completed, so we appreciate help from foreign institutions" he said.

"We need a botanical garden to teach horticulture, as well as forestry, biology and even medicinal studies."

Mohsini said he also hoped to introduce crop breeds from abroad that would suit Afghanistan's varied landscape and improve the country's fragile rural economy.

Gardening and especially rose cultivation have a long tradition in Afghanistan and some attempts have been made to replace opium poppies -- responsible for most of the world's heroin -- with roses to produce oil for export.

Many Kabul homes have lawns lined with climbing roses, but gardening has lost its allure for people exhausted by three decades of war and an insurgency that has been intensifying for more than eight years.

Public parks are poorly tended and the city's former gentility is now hidden behind ugly concrete blast walls and sand bunkers.

At least one public garden in the centre of Kabul has been transformed into a military base, as thousands of the 121,000 NATO and US troops fighting the Taliban across the country are stationed in the heavily-fortified capital.

Hall, who plans to visit Kabul soon despite recent deadly suicide bombs in the city, said a botanic garden would help Afghanistan to repair its war-damaged natural environment.

"It has already been a massive achievement to get the project to where it is. Our role is to support the university and seek funding," he said.

"A garden can be just an outdoor collection of plants, but it can also be an institution that trains people and runs programmes for conservation and public awareness."

The RBGE team is planning to hold a three-day workshop during its visit to Kabul. It will guide a class of about a dozen through how to work with the IUCN Red List, the international register for endangered species.

"The Afghan environment has been under such pressure for so long that there are a good number of species that could be very threatened with extinction," he said.

The program was scheduled for last year but was postponed after August presidential elections caused months of instability, only resolved when Hamid Karzai was declared president and inaugurated in November.

"We're expecting a real mixture of people," Hall said. "Both some of the professors who worked in this area before the Soviet occupation (in the 1980s), and some keen younger people."

The RBGE also hopes to help compile an easy-to-use guidebook of Afghanistan's huge variety of plants for the country's budding botanists and amateur gardeners.

Source: AFP

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