Traditionally, agriculture and livestock management are the dominant industries in Afghanistan. However, the large foreign presence in the country and the move into cities during the 2000s have meant that the emphasis in GDP has shifted from agriculture to the trade and services sector, as well as construction and civil engineering. The country, which is one of the world’s poorest, has only in recent decades started to build up a factory industry.
In 1957, government-run five-year plans were introduced in the business sector, which, despite extensive problems, yielded results in several areas: the main roads improved, airports, dams and bridges were built, natural gas began to be extracted and industrial production increased. Irrigation programs were implemented in agriculture. Modernization was mainly focused on larger projects, but they rarely affected the majority of the population. Several projects were carried out with outside assistance, mainly from the Soviet Union and the United States.
The plans that were drawn up for the country’s future business after the mid-1970s were overthrown by the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the subsequent fighting thereafter. The country is then highly dependent on foreign aid.
Illegal opium production again increased, mainly in the Taliban controlled area. According to the United Nations Anti-Drug Organization, in 2013, opium was grown on 209,000 hectares, which is the largest area since measurement began.
About 60 percent of the population feed on agriculture and livestock. The degree of mechanization is low. The cultivated land is estimated to comprise 8 million ha, of which more than half is estimated to be irrigated. There are traditionally three main irrigation systems: channels derived from rivers and streams, underground channels (karezer) and wells whose water is pumped up and discharged onto the cultivation land. In drier areas, the agricultural land is characteristic. The dominant crop is wheat, and other important food plants are corn, rice, barley and potatoes. Fruit cultivation is also of great importance, among other things. for export. Cotton is grown partly for the domestic textile industry and partly for export.
Forests are estimated to cover 3 percent of Afghanistan’s area and are found mainly in the eastern parts and on Hindukush’s southern slopes. Wood is used as fuel and building material. Livestock management mainly provides a direct supply to a local population, while skins and wool are important commodities. Sheep dominate, and the skins of the caracal sheep are famous and highly valued. Wool goes to domestic carpet production and to export. Other livestock are cattle and goats. Donkeys, horses, camels, water buffaloes and mules are important pulling and loading animals. Prior to the Soviet invasion of 1979, the country was largely self-sufficient in food.
Minerals and energy
Afghanistan is rich in economically important minerals.
Large deposits of natural gas have been found in the northern parts of the country. There are storage and refining facilities in the natural gas fields. The coal deposits, especially on the north side of Hindukush, are also huge. Annual production in the 1980s was approximately 150,000 tonnes, but has subsequently declined. Oil production is small; the currently known deposits of 14 million tonnes are believed to be a fraction of real assets.
One of the world’s largest unexploded iron ore deposits is found in the Hajigak massif in Bamian in central Afghanistan. The iron content is high (63 percent), but when the ore is over 3,500 meters above sea level. transport costs have so far been too high for utilization. Significant copper deposits are found in Ainak near Kabul; quarrying is underway, and a smelter is planned. In addition, there are deposits of lead, zinc, gold, silver and uranium. Also important are rock salt, emeralds and lapis lazuli.
Afghanistan has great water energy potential, but extensive dam buildings are necessary before it can be utilized. More significant facilities exist only in the Kabul/Jalalabad area. Coal and natural gas are used in thermal power plants.
The manufacturing industry in Afghanistan is very small. Data on the number of employees are uncertain and seasonal work is common. In 2017, 18 percent of the working men were estimated to have paid employment in the industry (including the construction industry). Manufacturing is mainly focused on the processing of agricultural and livestock products. Most important is the cotton industry, which, however, failed to meet the domestic need. Other industrial products are manure, cement, sugar, vegetable oil and woolen fabrics.
It is impossible to draw a sharp boundary between industry and craft, and in Afghanistan’s many bazaars there is a craft-based industry that produces a variety of consumer goods. A traditional and still important source of nutrition is the manufacture and export of the famous Afghan rugs. Other handicraft products are copper, leather and goldsmiths.
The information on Afghanistan’s foreign trade is uncertain and reflects a limited international exchange. According to Countryaah, the most important export goods are opium, fruits, vegetables (to India and Pakistan) as well as dried fruits, carpets, cotton and karakul leather. The main import goods are food, capital goods, petroleum products, vehicles, machinery and textile products. Alongside official trade there is a significant smuggling of drugs, gems and weapons, among others. Opievallmoodling has increased sharply since the outbreak of war, and opium is exported mainly to Pakistan.