USDA Vilsack

US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack is planning a visit to Afghanistan as part of the USDA's efforts to ramp up development of the sector in the war-torn country.

Mr Vilsack said at a news conference on Thursday that agricultural development is the Obama administration's chief non-military goal in Afghanistan, Government reported.

'We will align our assistance and our help with the agricultural framework that has been recently announced by the Afghan government,' Mr Vilsack said.

Mr Vilsack said the USDA has 54 employees in Afghanistan and a budget of US$300m per year. They work on projects to increase crop productivity and export systems, saving watersheds and planting trees.

US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told the conference that the focus in the country had shifted from poppy eradication to agricultural development.

One hectare of poppies, used in the production of opium, could generate a farmer US$2,500 whereas US$3,000-4,000 could be made from the same area of apples and US$18,000 from table grapes, according to Mr Vilsack.