LASHKARGAH (PAN): The economy of people of the volatile Helmand Province mainly depends on agriculture with the sector witness remarkable boom as compared to the past, officials said.
Head of Agriculture Department Rohullah Rawan said 85% of people economy depends on agriculture. He said that earlier poppy cultivation diminished the crops of wheat, however in recent years; the crop has been multiplied in the backdrop of launching awareness programme among farmers elsewhere in the province.
“There is remarkable progress following distribution of improved seeds, fertilizers, and reduction in poppy cultivation in the province,” he added.
In the backdrop of building maximum pressure by the security forces, the poppy cultivation diminished dramatically, he said, adding that the wheat product is increased to great extent because of absence of market for poppy cultivation.
Compared to the past, Helmand has turned into a hub of wheat producing and exporting province, he added.
He went on to say that the province has two crops seasons with around 110,000 hectare farming land in which 550,000 hectare is irrigated while the rest is rain-fed land.
He said the government would continue support in order to grow fruits orchards on the vast land in the province.
Development and challenges: 
Rawan said that despite enough water and better climate, the province faces some problems such as lack of improved seeds, shortage of water, and lack of public awareness, cold rooms, processing, and sorting factories.
He said that diagnosis of plant diseases, cotton processing factories, and lack of roads from farm land to the market are some issues, which need immediate attention.
He informed only two agricultural research farms are functioning in the province while most of the farms land is occupied by land grabbers.
He said that the renowned livestock farms have been destroyed but the department helped create 100 centers of diary production in the province. He said the department made hectic efforts to establish poultry farms in Lashkargah city, which has been handed over to private sector.
“If the government and business community extend their support to the department, the level of production will increase dramatically in contrast to other provinces of the country,” he added.
Dr. Muhibullah, the deputy head of a poultry farm in Lashkargah city said that 3,500 chickens are produced after every two days. In addition to poultry farm, he said there is food production for chicken and they help conduct training to create awareness on poultry farming.
He said the chicken and other products are sold in Helmand and exported to neighbouring Nimroz Province.
He said there are over 200 chickens selling centers in the province where dozens of people are working to eke out their livelihood. 
He said the farm has been constructed in Bolan farm and over 5,500 chickens produce 3,500 eggs each day.
 He said the chickens are brought from Netherlands and Pakistan and the climate of Helmand has similarity to that of the two countries.
Haji Atiqulah, a tribal elder and landlord in Nawi District said that the government is unable to bring positive changes in the economy of people through better mechanism.
He said the farmers cultivate cotton, wheat, and other crops but the government did not provide the opportunity to have market access and processing. He said if the government creates a better mechanism for marketing, processing, and public awareness then the economy tend to improve considerably.
 He underlined the need that the government should focus to improve the agriculture sector and livestock and encourage the local and national businessmen to invest more.
Haji Alim Ahmad Naseri, the head of national businessmen association said that there is no opportunity for investment in the province and if the government addresses problems then the businessmen will come forward to invest.
  He said the main challenge in the way of investment is insecurity, government’s inability to resolve problems, and the absence of the industrial park in the province.
He said despite all these challenges, 15 private entrepreneurs have invested in the province, but insecurity and lack of electricity are creating hurdles.
Naseri went on to say that most of the time investors are threatened and their family members are abducted, which forced the investors to stop investing in the province.
He said the Ministry of Commerce is unable to provide the market and transit for the products, adding that there are enough agriculture products in the country but the problem in exporting and transit of the products is a source of concern.
He demanded of the government to take serious measures and establish processing factories and provide opportunities for investment.
Abdul Wadood, a shopkeeper and a resident of Lashkargah city said though the investors have big investment in the province but officials create problems for them on the one side while on the other armed men abduct their family members.
He said a few days back the son of a doctor was abducted and then released for a ransom of $0.5 million.
He said better security is the prerequisite for investment and.
Women are more involved in handcrafts in Helmand Province. Noorzai, the head of Greshk District Handcraft Association said about 500 women are associated with the profession of handcrafts. She said there are excellent handcrafts products but the government did not provide the needed support for marketing.
He said the main problem for all handcraft women is absence of market, adding if the government provides access to market opportunity then the economy of the family would increase.
Gulalai Shierzad, a resident of Lashkargah city said she is encouraged many others to initiate handcrafts profession. She said women sew various clothes and embroidery but the problem of grave nature is that there is absence of a market while their products are being sold at throw away prices.