Mixed Subsistence Patterns

Afghanistan Table of Contents

Mixtures of pastoralism with limited migration and agriculture are very common. In all ethnic groups there are fully sedentary villages with semi-sedentary elements, such as short vertical summer migrations into the hills to graze flocks or harvest grains and melons. The picture does not remain static as the degrees of agricultural versus pastoralist strategies increases during difficult times, such as periods of drought, because of disease, or the inability to repay debts. Poorer nomads can become sedentary because they lose their flocks. On the other hand, wealthy nomads who invest in land may eventually prefer to settle in order to manage their holdings.

Sedentary populations can also take up elements of pastoralism and generate new semi-nomadic units. Farmers practicing a mixed subsistence tend to invest surpluses in enlarging their flocks which may soon overgraze lands surrounding the irrigated oases around settlements if they are not kept moving. Agriculturists with relatively large herds will therefore assign nomadic pastoralist duties to younger brothers who in time may elect to remain nomadic and relinquish land inheritance in favor of increased livestock. A new nomad family is thus born, although the process may take more than one generation.

Former nomads may also return to nomadism if, after being forced through poverty to give up herding, they manage to earn enough to start another herd. Pastoral nomadism and sedentary agriculture, therefore, are not necessarily permanent adaptations and vary in any given place at any given time.

Agricultural subsistence patterns differ with the terrain. The majority of cultivators own their own land. Holdings are typically small and there are relatively few landowners with hugh estates. But in all areas water is the most important determining factor and must be carefully managed. Because of the scarcity of water, only 10-12 percent of the surface of Afghanistan is cultivated, and of this only one-quarter is irrigated. The rest depends on vulnerable rain-fed dry farming known as lalmi. Ingenious indigenous water technologies are practiced throughout the country, including hand dug underground water channel systems called karez. These carry water for many miles from the base of mountains to fields on the plains.

Agriculture and animal husbandry engage about 60 percent of the workforce and all producers, whether nomads or farmers, are tied to a market economy. In addition, the industries that began to develop after the 1930s and later in the 1960s were largely based on agricultural and pastoral products. During the war, the improved road system that was to facilitate access to markets was destroyed and the industrial complexes were stripped of machinery.

Rural-urban migration increased measurably as the road system improved and industrial complexes near cities proliferated. Urban expansion brought in new architectural styles and building materials; prefab cement apartment blocks required adjustments in living styles. Still, despite monumental jumps in urban populations nowhere were slums evident.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress