Pistachio trees planted on former opium-growing land in Qal'eh-ye Now, Afghanistan. Photo by ISAF Public Affairs via Flickr.
Thousands of preserved plant specimens -- key to protecting important food crops, and overall biodiversity, in Afghanistan -- have been restored to Kabul University's herbarium thanks to the heroic efforts of a botany professor who hid them from the Taliban.The nearly 25,000 plants at the herbarium were largely collected and donated to the university by German and Scottish scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which participated in the effort to restore them:
The herbarium survived destructive and repressive rule under the Taliban regime thanks to the efforts of Dr. Noor Ahmad Mirazai, a professor of botany at Kabul University. During Taliban rule, all government property was threatened with being destroyed in an effort to expunge "foreign influence." Dr. Mirazai meticulously moved the herbarium from room to room at the university and eventually to his home to safeguard it. He returned the collection to Kabul University when the Taliban's reign ended.
The plant samples languished in a dusty storeroom until a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-led consortium -- including U.C. Davis and Texas A&M; University -- helped Kabul University restore its once-threatened collection. Work is currently underway to photograph and digitize the herbarium's holding to provide critical baseline data for the country's flora, which includes key food species such as wheat and pistachio, almond, apricot, and walnut trees.
An 'Enormous' Impact on Environmental Protection
For the first time in several decades, USAID said in a press release about the project, "Kabul University faculty and students will be able to use the herbarium for training, teaching, and research -- the purposes for which it was originally intended."
The effort will also have an "enormous" impact on future environmental protection efforts, allowing researchers to implement environmental impact assessments and design natural-resources management and rehabilitation plans and help the country better meet its obligations under international environmental conventions.
Such challenges, of course, are not the most pressing ones facing the troubled nation, but there's something poignant about knowing that, thanks to one man's heroism, an important body of knowledge and biodiversity stands ready to aid in Afghanistan's future re-blossoming.
More about environmental protection in Afghanistan:
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