The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday approved a $100 million grant to help the Government of Afghanistan respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the statement said.
“ADB reaffirms its full commitment to supporting Afghanistan in its fight against COVID-19 and reducing the adverse impact of the pandemic on the lives of Afghans and the economy,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa. “The assistance will help strengthen the health system, expand social protection for the poor and vulnerable population while ensuring gender mainstreaming, and support macroeconomic stabilization and job creation in Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan’s economic outlook has deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic because of business lockdowns, a sharp drop in household incomes, and a downturn in regional trade and remittances. ADB forecasts Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) to contract by 5.0% this year. Nearly 250,000 micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), accounting for over 80% of nonagricultural employment, have been hit hard. The unemployment rate is projected to rise to 37.9% in 2020 from 23.9% in 2019. The budget deficit including grants has nearly tripled, reaching 3% of GDP in 2020, compared to 2019. Spikes in food prices due to disruptions in the food supply have increased the food insecurity risks.
According to the statement the national poverty rate is projected to reach up to 72% this year from 55% in 2017, with an additional 6 million people falling into poverty. A health emergency of such magnitude has aggravated the pressure on the country’s inadequate health care system, compounded by increasing transmission risks from internally displaced persons, returning migrants, and refugees.
To mitigate the adverse impacts of the pandemic, the government rolled out its comprehensive countercyclical pandemic response package of $633.9 million, comprising health, social protection, and macroeconomic stabilization measures. ADB’s COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) Program grant will support the delivery of the government’s response package, read the statement.
The program has several components. It will support the government in conducting a nationwide gender-sensitive public awareness campaign for COVID-19, scaling up the capacity of medical facilities, including gender-sensitive treatment facilities and the availability of medical supplies and equipment.
It will help the government extend its targeted social safety nets, including daily bread assistance to at least 310,000 poor households; water and electricity bill coverage for at least 350,000 households in Kabul, with priority given to women-headed households; coverage of over 130,000 old-age pensioners and their female heirs, including biometric registration; one-time cash transfers of 6,000 afghanis ($78) to at least 41,500 internally displaced persons and refugees; and remuneration packages for at least 32,570 disabled persons and the families of people killed in conflicts.
The program will also support the implementation of stabilization measures covering state-owned enterprises, job creation in the agriculture sector, and MSMEs. The MSME support will comprise tax exemptions, subsidized lending, vocational training, and market access.
The grant also features measures to promote good governance and anticorruption, including having a monitoring and evaluation specialist at the Ministry of Finance (MOF) to support program implementation and reporting, electronic tracking of fund flows at the MOF, and auditing of pandemic-related spending by the Supreme Audit Office, which are built into the assistance. ADB had earlier provided technical assistance to strengthen debt management and monitoring of fiscal risks, as well as project management capacity, procurement systems, and safeguards compliance.
The CARES Program is funded through the COVID-19 pandemic response option (CPRO) under ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility. CPRO was established as part of ADB’s $20 billion expanded assistance for developing member countries’ COVID-19 response announced in April. Visit ADB’s website to learn more about its ongoing response.
This comes after in May, ADB approved a $40 million emergency assistance grant for Afghanistan. It supports the construction of 15 and rehabilitation of 5 hospitals and medical facilities, adding more than 1,100 new hospital beds; procurement of urgent medicines, medical supplies, and equipment; and training of at least 3,000 health workers, including 900 women, in COVID-19 surveillance, prevention, and treatment.
Afghanistan’s GDP to expand by 3% in 2021: ADB
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecasts that Afghanistan’s gross domestic product GDP growth will increase by 3% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 after the normalization of business activity and market sentiment.
In its Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2021 released on Wednesday, the ADB stated that Afghanistan’s economic growth is expected to recover this year and accelerate next year after a sharp decline in 2020 from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and continued violence and instability.
“Afghanistan’s economy experienced unprecedented disruption in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic, political instability and continued violence, which cut remittances, trade, and revenue,” said ADB Country Director for Afghanistan Narendra Singru.
“With a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout and post-pandemic recovery, the country should be on track to achieve economic growth this year and in 2022 as business activity and market sentiment normalize,” Singru said.
According to the report, inflation more than doubled from 2.3% in 2019 to 5.6% in 2020 driven by higher food prices. Food price inflation in 2020 was estimated at 10% with the highest spike recorded in April when border closure and panic buying propelled it to 16.6%. Inflation is projected to moderate to 5.0% in 2021 and 4.0% in 2022 as food supplies improve.
However, risks remain, including implementing vaccinations in remote and insecure areas, conflict, criminality, corruption, political instability, and broader social fragility. If unaddressed, these could weigh heavily on the economy and impede recovery.
“Supporting the recovery of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) hard hit by the pandemic is pivotal to safeguarding workers’ incomes and livelihoods, according to the report. Before the pandemic, MSMEs were estimated to provide nearly 1.6 million service and industry jobs. The government approved a 2-year support package worth $295 million in October 2020 to improve business conditions and implemented countercyclical measures that include support for MSMEs,” the report read.
The ADB suggests that Afghanistan should facilitate MSME access to markets by developing infrastructure, improving security, combating corruption, simplifying regulation, strengthening property rights and contract enforcement, and promoting innovation and better labor skills in order to improve the business environment.
“Increasing access to credit and further expanding the formal bank sector is also crucial,” the organization said.
“ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region,” the report concluded.
Govt to build 38 new saffron processing centers around the country
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) said it will build 38 new saffron processing centers in seven provinces in the country this solar year, 1400.
The ministry says the centers will be built in Herat, Ghazni, Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz, Balkh, Faryab and Daikundi provinces.
The ministry added that the construction of these centers will help increase the yield, quality and value of saffron.
Saffron is one of the most important export products of Afghanistan.
Afghan saffron has sold for up to $1,000 per kilogram in world markets due to its high quality.
However, according to a number of growers, the price of saffron globally has dropped in the past year.
A few years ago, Afghanistan government and donors started promoting saffron as a legal alternative to the cultivation of opium poppy, as a commodity that fits with a market-led approach to Afghanistan’s agricultural sector and as a crop that can enhance women’s participation in economic activities and their productive role outside the household.
According to the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) the planting of saffron provides the basis for growth and employment creation envisaged in the country.
Afghanistan’s walnut yield tops 14,877 metric tons
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), reports that in the 1399 solar year, 14,877 metric tons of walnuts were harvested throughout the country.
According to MAIL data, 5,206 hectares of land was used to cultivate walnut trees in 28 provinces.
Badakhshan was reported as having the highest yield with a harvest of 4,464 metric tons.
Kapisa produced 2,520 metric tons; Parwan ended the year with 1,575 metric tons; and Baghlan with 803 metric tons.
MAIL attributed the solid harvest to good weather, timely rains and the support of the Ministry of Agriculture for growers.
Kabul, Nuristan, Takhar, Panjshir, Kunar, Paktia, Maidan Wardak and Daikundi also have suitable conditions for the production and growth of walnuts, MAIL stated.
Walnuts are grown prolifically across Afghanistan especially as the mountainous and sandy areas provide perfect growing conditions. Walnuts are also popular among Afghans.
So far, several types of walnuts have been identified in the country, the most common of which is the paper-shell type walnuts.
Walnut tree wood is also used in industry, and even the flowers and bark of the kernels in the form of iodine are used in Greek medicine. The fruit or kernel is rich in vitamins A and B and is eaten fresh and dried.
Walnuts contain 76% oil, 22% protein and some carbohydrates, as well as a small amount of vitamins A-B-E in raw fruits and vitamin C, which increases its value.
Dry nuts are of paramount economic importance to Afghanistan and because dried walnuts have a high sales market value, this dried fruit plays a major role in the country’s economy.
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