The Alternative Development Program for the Southern Region of Afghanistan celebrated the opening of a civilian airstrip in Helmand province on June 3, 2009 with the landing of the first civilian aircraft at the site in nearly 30 years.
“It is one of the most important projects in Helmand. … Like good roads, good runways like this are crucial to growth of the province and investment here,” Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal said at the ceremony, according to Reuters.
Governor Mangal was one of many dignitaries who attended the inauguration. Other attendees included U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and U.K. Ambassador Mark Sedwill.
The reconstruction project transformed the Bost airstrip from a gravel landing strip into a paved runway that can handle passenger and cargo jets. The Afghan airline Ariana uses the airstrip to provide passenger service to the province. Passenger flights provide a safer alternative to traveling overland, as roads are often subject to Taliban attack.
The reconstruction of the Bost airstrip is part of the USAID project’s efforts to revitalize the once-vibrant agriculture sector in Afghanistan’s southern region. Formerly the breadbasket of Afghanistan, Helmand once produced some of the world’s finest dried fruits, pomegranates, and nuts. However, years of war decimated the province’s agriculture sector and infrastructure — such as irrigation systems and roads — that is required to grow and transport fragile, perishable goods such as fruit.
To commemorate the opening of the Bost airstrip, the U.K. Department for International Development announced a £4.5 million aid package to boost trade from the renovated airfield. Building on USAID’s work, the U.K. funds will pay for access roads, security fencing, and a new administration block for the agro-industrial park.
The Alternative Development Program worked from 2005 until 2009 to build the capacity for legal agricultural trade and production in three provinces of southern Afghanistan: Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan. The project’s efforts range from training farmers in improved farming techniques to increase productivity and profits, to implementing cash-for-work activities that employ tens of thousands of Afghan laborers in rehabilitation of the region’s vast system of irrigation canals. In addition, the project distributed agricultural inputs to farmers — including fertilizer, wheat seeds, and poultry stock. The project also worked to rehabilitate pomegranate orchards, and in 2007, helped facilitate the first exports of Afghan pomegranates to the United Kingdom and other countries since the Soviet invasion in 1979.