Agriculture is the main occupation, although less than 10% of the land is cultivated; a large percentage of the arable land was damaged by warfare during the 1980s and 90s. Largely subsistence crops include wheat and other grains, fruits, and nuts. The opium poppy, grown mainly for the international illegal drug trade, is the most important cash crop. The country is the world's largest producer of opium, and of hashish, obtained from hemp (cannabis); both are produced especially in S Afghanistan. Grazing is also of great importance in the economy. The fat-tailed sheep are a staple of Afghan life, supplying skins and wool for clothing and meat and fat for food.
Mineral wealth is virtually undeveloped, except for natural gas. There are significant deposits of iron, copper, niobium, cobalt, gold, and molydenum; other minerals include rare earths, asbestos, silver, potash, and aluminum. Oil fields are f oil fields are found in the north. Some small-scale manufactures produce cotton and other fabrics, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, and processed agricultural goods. Extremely high levels of unemployment—about 40% in 2005—have resulted from the general collapse of Afghanistan's industry.
Opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, lambskins (Karakul), and gemstones are the main exports; capital goods, foodstuffs, textiles and other manufactured goods, and petroleum products are the main imports. As a result of civil war, exports have dwindled to a minimum, except for the illegal trade in opium and hashish. The country has also become an important producer of heroin, which is derived from opium. Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international assistance. The main trading partners are Pakistan, the United States, and India.
Road communications throughout the country are poor, although existing roads have undergone reconstruction since the end of Taliban rule; pack animals are an important means of transport in the interior. A road and tunnel under the Salang pass, built (1964) by the Russians, provides a short, all-weather route between N and S Afghanistan. Significant railroad construction did not take place until the 21st cent., with the first major line opening in 2011.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.