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'Harvest of Hope' Helps Afghans De-Mine Fertile Land - 2002-10-02

A California-based organization has launched a new campaign to remove landmines from what was once one of the most agriculturally-productive areas of Afghanistan. Several U.S. lawmakers and a Nobel peace laureate joined in welcoming the group's new effort.

It's called Harvest of Hope, a multi-year effort to turn what was once the breadbasket of Afghanistan into land that can again be used for agriculture.

The campaign seeks to raise funds to de-mine, and re-plant, the Shomali Valley in Afghanistan, which is now littered with the explosive devices after decades of military conflict.

Harvest of Hope was originated by Roots of Peace, a non-profit organization based in California devoted to eradicating landmines and returning land to productive uses. "The root of terrorism is a landmine," says Heidi Kuhn, the group's founder. "It is a deadly symbol, an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction. And it provides fear for innocent women and children all around the world who can't walk the earth with the dignity and confidence that we all deserve as global citizens."

Roots of Peace has already contributed to de-mining projects in Croatia and Bosnia. Major supporters of the organization include 400 wine-growers in California, and its de-mining program in Croatia was appropriately named "Mines to Vines."

Among those supporting de-mining in Afghanistan is Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate and founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. "We will be not only taking mines out of the ground, but putting the land back to productive use," she said. "The people of Afghanistan have been given many promises. They are very frightened that those promises will not be fulfilled."

Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who is honorary chairman of the Harvest of Hope campaign, is introducing legislation in Congress to provide $10 million for de-mining operations.

"In Afghanistan, thousands upon thousand of landmines were left in the fertile soil of the Shomali Valley during the Soviet occupation," she said. "Farmers risk their lives as they try to cultivate that land to provide for their family and the local economy. Much of the land is unstable and unusable, left to grow only weeds, left to grow fear, and left to grows resentment. This legislation is a beginning and will be a model for additional humanitarian de-mining efforts throughout the world."

International relief organizations estimate 200,000 Afghans have been killed or wounded by mines, with as many as 200 new victims each month.

Roots for Peace joins other groups such as the British-based HALO (Hazardous Areas Life-Support Organization) Trust, in de-mining efforts in Afghanistan.