By Mohammad Saber
HERAT, Afghanistan, May 13, 2010 (ENS) - Mullah Samandar finds it hard to control his emotions as he swings his axe at the trunk of the pistachio tree.
"When I cut down pistachio trees, I cry and my tears don't stop," the 55-year-old said, explaining that he has no other way to provide his family with fuel. "Times are hard and I do not have a job, a salary or any opportunity to find a job. We are even forced to eat plants we gather on the mountains."
Afghanistan once had more than 450,000 hectares (1,737 square miles) of pistachio trees, covering a broad band across the northern part of the country in at least nine provinces. Now, 40 percent of these pistachio forests have been destroyed, according to the ministry of agriculture.
Officials there attribute this destruction to the effects of the last 30 years of fighting - when the jurisdiction of the central government in the provinces was weak or non-existent - and have now submitted a bill to parliament to protect the pistachio forests.
The problem is particularly acute in the northwest province of Badghis, which has Afghanistan's highest concentration of pistachio forests. Residents say that poverty and the lack of any other source of fuel is forcing them to cut down the trees for firewood.
Former director of agriculture in Badghis, Gol Ahmad Arefi, says that 50 percent of the province's 95,000 hectares of pistachio forests - whose crop, he says, was once worth over US$100 million annually - have already been destroyed. Each year, he went on, another 200 hectares of pistachio forest is lost.
"The process will continue as long as the government does not provide the people living near the forests with fuel," he said, adding that his department had hired 180 guards to protect the forests but that "this number is not enough." …