27 September 2017

Vegetables and War Zones

If you asked me last month about soil salinity in Afghanistan I would have been able to tell you nothing. I probably would have thought to myself, I kind of think that soil salinity in Afghanistan is the least of their troubles.


To which I would primly point out to you that I talk about everything from housework to human rights and SURELY THAT COVERS SOIL SCIENCE?

That aside, it turns out that soil salinity is a fairly critical issue for Afghanistan and other 'critical states'.  'Critical states' refers to the places we here generally think of as 'countries which have had the bejeezus bombed out of them and the infrastructure destroyed for reasons we're not very sure about but seem to result in lots of people killed, injured or misplaced'.
After the largest non-nuclear bombing ever happens, not much is left
Source: Reuters
For a country that has around 75% of the population dependent on agriculture, where it snows in winter and bakes in summer, where the woodlands/trees/forests have been depleted due to conflict, construction and the need for fuel, the salinity of the soil is a massive deal. It affects the ability to grow anything, like you know - food, which affects both the health of individuals and the economy. It affects the quality of the water, which of course affects hygiene. And of course hygiene, affects health, which affects.... oh you get me.  Being able to grow stuff is pretty important so if the soil is all wrong (a genuine scientific evaluation) everybody is screwed.

Add into that mix Afghanistan still suffering more than it's fair share of conflict and internal instability, it almost seems like it's all too hard. I'm a bleeding heart lefty remember and even just listening to it I felt overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. I mean - gardening and guns - I am not great with either if I'm honest.

But it turns out that people like Brian Hilton from World Vision, the government and a bunch of other NFPs are more comfortable with gardening and guns than I am, and have wandered about Afghanistan chatting to the locals and worked out that overall they'd rather NOT be growing poppies even though the buggers grow everywhere, because poppies mean opium and opium means addiction, fighting and the average Afghani is pretty much over fighting about anything.  So, they've worked out they can grow winter wheat, saffron and pistachios and get it all moving again.
Khatai cookies - Afghan cookies with cardamom and pistachio (vegan)
You're very welcome for the #foodinspo
Now obviously I've massively oversimplified lots of really involved science, politicking, negotiating and so on, but if you had ever told me that getting Afghanistan back on its feet might be as simple as nuts, I would have told you you were, ummmmm, nuts.

Oh c'mon. You would have made the same joke.

But it goes to show how much we know over here in our little corner of the planet. And this is what is fascinating to me about the work World Vision does - they don't just say "I think they need", or "I believe they need", or "They bloody well need", they go and ASK THE PEOPLE WOT LIVE THERE LIKE.

Or to be fair, they send people like Dr Brian into the field with his American accent, his crutches, more than a touch of knowledge about 'stuff' and a couple of translators/bodyguards to help with the asking and then they all sort it out. But then, you get the opportunity to listen to him talk and you find that you are actually massively intrigued by what is involved in the reforestation of Afghanistan and what that means for the people.  I mean this is the same man that got me fascinated in the biodiversification of sweet potatoes in Burundi last year and what that means in regards to the elimination of blindness. I mean sweet motherless child of Colin, I'm not even sure I could have placed Burundi on a map before he spoke but all of a sudden I was loving Burundi innovation as if I'd discovered it myself! (Could I be any more of a white cliche?)

Anyway, as you know a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous things and before you knew it I had fallen down the 3am rabbit hole on more than one sleepless night, reading about the role of vegetables in getting countries back on their feet after years of extensive conflict. In short, people are feckin' amazing and vegetables are so much more than your ability to see in the dark.

I've been thinking a lot about what Australians' don't know about 'critical zones'. And I know that when people say 'go back to where you come from' they're being more than a little bit racist, but it also shows how much we don't know collectively. I mean it would be great to send all the refugees in our detention centres back home wouldn't it? I mean most of the fighting is finished, so like just get back to it. Start living your lives again.

Except that there are no trees in public parks for kids to fall out of so they can sue the government so there are no jobs for lawyers, there are not hospitals for doctors to doctor in, no food for grocers to sell, the schools are bombed out so teachers have no resources, the power is still disconnected so there is no need for electricians to link up to Foxtel. These countries literally have to start at the very beginning, and that's sorting out the soil, and the drinking water and growing nuts.
source: World Vision Images
And what can we do? We can dust off our compassion, be kind to each other and share our pistachios. We can't solve all the problems of the world at once, but we can do a lot by doing a little to make our little corner of the world a much less hateful place.

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