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Ban fruit

The Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan do not dare to eat Afghan fruit and vegetables. The farmers around them have to grow opium to survive.


[Afghanistan] The 380 Norwegian soldiers in Camp Nidaros are located in the remote Mazar-i-Sharif, in the far north of Afghanistan. Here the soldiers eat good Norwegian – brown cheese and smoked salmon.

The farmers in the area would gladly produce food and sell it to the foreign soldiers. But the Defense does not think it is safe. So instead of trading food on the local market, all the food is imported by the Norwegian soldiers and the 40.000 other foreign soldiers in the country eat.

- If no one wants to buy watermelon from us, we must grow opium poppies. "Everyone" wants opium, says farmer Mohammad Yseen to Ny Tid.

When he was growing opium poppies, the grandson's father earned enough to buy TVs for the kids, refrigerators, and even a motorcycle for himself. This year he grows vegetables and has no money for children's school books.

Farmers are the largest occupational group in Afghanistan, and agricultural products have been the most important export industry in the Afghan economy in modern times. During the Taliban regime, opium production reached record lows, while fruit and vegetable production picked up. But after the fall of the Taliban regime, local warlords gained power and accelerated opium production. Afghanistan now has almost 90 percent of the world market for opiates.

Arne Strand, senior scientist at the Christian Michelsen Institute, believes something drastic should be done with the eating habits of both Ola Soldier and the other soldiers in Afghanistan.

- This is about both development policy and a military strategic gain. A potentially big gain with simple tools, says Strand.

He explains that the eating habits are an expression of the great distance between the locals and the foreign soldiers. But changing this is no easy task.

Major Per Arnt Olsen at Joint Operational Headquarters works on health and environmental issues related to the soldiers' overseas operations. He believes it is important for the soldiers' well-being and well-being with recognition in the diet.

- For example, we served reindeer meat in Camp Nidaros the other day. And we usually have brown cheese and some other types of toppings available.

Bacteria Fear

- No, never, says the Norwegian soldier Thomas in Camp Nidaros, when asked if he has tasted the famous Afghan water


- I have not tasted any Afghan fruit, says Thomas with a smile.

He cannot provide us for security reasons

his last name.

Safety is also the reason why Thomas cannot eat fruit. Major Olsen explains and defends the food policy of the Norwegian forces.

- It's no secret that food-

supplies are a very critical area. In Afghanistan we encounter diseases that have been unknown in Norway for the last fifty years. It is another bacterial flora. The individual soldier must be in good shape to do his job. Otherwise, one cannot fulfill his mission, he says.

In March, a foodborne bacterium knocked out the entire Norwegian military contingent in Mazar-i-Sharif.

The defense sets EU-compliant requirements for food quality and traceability. This means the same purity requirements as in Norway. In practice, this means that the food that is eaten must be handled by contractors, who largely import food from the world market, which then crosses the road via Pakistan. Part of the food is specially ordered from Norway and travels long distances by plane.

Businessman Mohammad Fahim is directly angry.

- I challenge them: Our fruit is better than the one they eat! Who wants our fruit to be unhealthy? asks Fahim offended.

Olsen understands that eating local food can be insulting. He emphasizes that the policy of not eating local food is not a waterproof ban.

- The soldiers who work in relation to civilians, of course, eat local food when they visit civilian homes. It is insulting not to accept food that is offered. But they then eat with great risk, he explains.

Hospitality is important

Aid researcher and Afghanistan expert Arne Strand believes the Defense is making a big mistake.

- It is an important part of the culture to be able to show hospitality. It is clear that it can be perceived as insulting when the foreign soldiers import the food, says Strand.

He says that Afghanistan's largest luxury hotel, Kabul Serena, has a purchasing policy that they should use local food whenever possible. They do extensive and successful work to control hygiene and quality, says Strand.

What is good enough for top international diplomats, maybe even good enough for the soldiers?

Strand believes that the Armed Forces should use their powers to change the purchasing policy.

- It gets especially wrong when you have to do peacekeeping work. It is crucial to show people confidence. How can you show trust in a people if you also say that you do not trust what they serve?

Amir Mohammad cultivates the fields a few miles beyond Camp Nidaros and complains that it is no longer possible to support his family of 16 with fruit crops.

He is angry with the soldiers who will not buy his food. Prices have fallen recently and Mohammad is no longer able to send his fruit to Kabul. And even that is difficult to arrange practically.

- If the international forces had eaten fruit and vegetables from here, we would have done better, he states.

The province's director of agriculture, Mohammad Tayeeb, also told Ny Tid that it would help the situation if the foreign soldiers wanted to eat local food.

New Norwegian cuisine

Farmer Mohammad, for his part, is threatening to go back to opium production, if it is the only economically sustainable alternative. He quit opium two years ago, following pressure from President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government.

Norwegian chef Fredrik, also he without a last name for security reasons, says straight out that Afghan fruit is banned at the trade fair in Camp Nidaros. The doctors have found bacteria in the food.

- The farmers here use some human fertilizer, he laughs.

In September, a new Norwegian kitchen is ready in Camp Nidaros. By then, Norwegian chefs will be serving the Norwegian soldiers on a regular basis, and the proportion of Norwegian raw materials is likely to increase.

- What stands in the way of using more local food?

- We have no objections to local food as such. But documentation is difficult. If we are offered a vegetable locally, it can come from anywhere. And we do not know how it is produced, says Major Olsen.

- Fruit and vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes, do not you buy it locally either? Is not fruit that can be peeled safe?

- Fruit and vegetables are also covered by our contracts. The road comes by car. But neither is it free of challenges. When fresh things like salad are carried through

contaminated areas, we must wash it in chlorine water before we can serve it.

Open field hospital

Outside the base, in the dusty streets of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the Balkh province, we find the delicious melons for sale in a number of small shops.

- I have never seen a foreign soldier come here to buy watermelon, says Jalal-Uddin. The bearded owner of one of the city's shops shakes his head sadly at the foreigners.

- I just can not understand it. Why do they buy expensive food from other places and not our cheap food?

But if the food policy of the Norwegian soldiers has caused resentment among the locals, another measure has won some hearts: A field hospital where Afghans in the area can receive free treatment.

- Thank you to the Norwegian troops for this, says Shah Wali, father of nine-year-old Pacha, who has had kidney stones operated on at the Norwegian field hospital.

- If I had not received help for this, I would have had to sell my land and travel to Pakistan, he says.

- I'm fine now. They are kind people, says Pacha.

And take a sip of the imported milk.

Stolen traditions

[Famous] Few people remember the pomegranates grown in the oases of southern Kandahar and sold in Europe, the cherries of the Hind Kush Valley, or the watermelons that legendary explorer Marco Polo characterized as "unique."

This fruit has been banished to a local bazaar in Mazar-i-Sharif and has become so badly scarred that the hundreds of Norwegian soldiers deployed here are not allowed to eat it.

Afghanistan was famous for its sweet fruits, which were sold in markets around the world until the conflicts in the country escalated in the 1970s. At one point, 60 per cent of world exports of dried fruit came from here, with revenues accounting for 40 per cent of the country's total export revenues.

Soldiers in Afghanistan

  • Today there are 480 Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. Nearly 400 of them are stationed at Camp Nidaros in Mazar-i-Sharif. The soldiers are affiliated with the Isaf force for NATO. The goal is to strengthen the Afghan central power. A total of 40.000 foreign soldiers are in Afghanistan.
  • Since 2001, Norway has had a number of different military contributions through Isaf and the US-led coalition Enduring Freedom.

By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen, Oslo and Amhad Khan, Mazar-i-Sharif

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