MAZAR-I-SHARIF (PAN): Though the agriculture sector is the main source of revenue generation for more than 85 % people of the northern Balkh Province, the vital sector is in constant grip of multidimensional problems.
Almost 60% land goes uncultivated every year because of shortage of irrigation water, however, efforts are on to build water canals, setting up processing factories, explore markets for agriculture products in an apparent attempt to bolster the sector.
Katib Shams, agriculture and irrigation director told Pajhwok Afghan News that the agro sector of the province witnessed immense progress as compared to the past.
He said that efforts have been intensified to build small and big water canals and explore market for agriculture products. Because of its business activities, the Balkh Province offers excellent opportunities for agriculture products.
He said that fruits of the province have greater demand and reputation, which further encourage the sector to flourish. The province has 180, 000 acres of irrigating land, 350, 000 acres of rain-fed land, 287, 500 acres of gardens, and 345, 000 acres of pasture lands. 
“Wheat, cotton, melon, watermelon, pomegranate, grapes, apricots, and fem are the main crops of the province. However, constant floods pose greater threat to erode the agriculture lands,” he added.
Owing to the absence of protective walls, the 2012 floods considerably damaged ready crops on 5, 000 acres of lands in Sholgar, Zari, Chamtal, Nahr-i-Shahi, Khilm, Chaharkond, and Marmal Districts.
Growers in the province complain of shortage of irrigation water, which impact negatively the crops’ production.
Mohammad Aslam, a resident of Dehdadi village said that shortage of irrigation water forces them not to cultivate half of their land. “I have 27 acres of agriculture land but I cultivate only 15 acres annually.” He demands of the government to help resolve the water shortage issue--- a persistent problem that leaves negative impact on the product.
Complaining with the same tone, Abdul Hamid, a resident of Chamtal District said that the water canals and rivers experience lack of water over the last two years.
The main problem that the Balkh Province confronts with is the shortage of water, head of irrigation department, Eng. Esmatullah told Pajhwok Afghan News.
“The central administration is need to execute mega projects in the province to address the long standing water dearth problem, he said.
The Balkh River releases up to 45 cubic meters water each second while the agriculture land needs 400 cubic meters each second, he said, adding that growing of saffron is a major progress in agriculture sector of the province.
He said cultivation of the saffron become common in the province, with its seeds could be easily found in the province.
Business and Investment:
The capital city Mazar-i-Sharif and Hairatan Dry Port have a lion share in promotion of business and investment in Balkh Province as compared to other parts of the country or region. Over the past two years, business sector experiences some sort of problems. 
Revenues of the department has reduced by 50 percent in 2012 as a result of imposing increased taxes and awkward competition among traders, petroleum department in charge, Mohammad Sabir Zaheer said. The revenue of the department reaches to $8 million in 2011 while the figures witnessed downward trend up to $4 million in 2012, he said.
According to traders, the business witnessed 25 percent decrease through Hairatan Port, ceasing increase in revenue due to non-implementation of business law throughout the country. He said that interfering by some neighbouring countries contribute to the declining of the revenues.
He said the import of large number of petroleum through Uzbekistan has concerned Pakistan and Iran, who willing to attract attention of Afghan traders to Torkham and Herat Ports to get more advantage of oil exporting to Afghanistan.
A trader Syed Tahir Roshanzada said that central administration did not concentrate on creating custom related facilities.
He said that multiple kinds of commercial goods are being imported illegally to the country without payment of taxes in customs and use bribe tactics. The traders bring their commercial goods through Hairatan Port normally by paying taxes to the government.
As a result, they could not compete with other traders in the free market and many businessmen are not willing to import their goods through this port. But Zahir dismissed existence of corruption at his department.
He said that 70 percent oil and gas are being imported through Hairatan Port in 2011, but the percentage was dramatically reduced in 2012. Governor Atta Mohammad Noor admitted that there are problems at Hairatan Port, warning that the situation would be worsen if the problems remain unresolved.
Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, the ministry of finance in his trip to northern Balkh province did not confirm whether the nascent business activities through Hairatan Port are linked to lawlessness.
He says: “Improving of Shirkhan Port in Kunduz and Aqina Port in Faryab has negatively affected business through Hairatan Port.”
In addition, business activities are also weakened through Torkham, Islam Qala Ports, and Nimroz Province, he added.
Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (AIHRC) office head in Balkh, Arash Younusi said that the business sector faces problems, adding that billions of dollars have been invested in Balkh Province, particularly Hairatan Port over the last five years. 
He said that flour, wheat, sugar, tea, oil, cereals, construction materials, and petroleum are among commercial goods being imported through Hairatan Port.
Moreover, raisin, caraculs, hides of sheep and cow, potato, pomegranate, grapes, pistachio are among the commercial goods that are being exported through Hairatan Port.
Linking the stepped up commercial activities to the paving of 79 kilometers railroad in the province, Younusi said that there are two industrial parks in south and east of Mazar-i-Sharif city. He said that there are 213 factories in Mazar-i-Sharif city and Hairatan Port. Of them, 10 percent are big, 20 percent medium, while the rest 70 percent are small factories.
Though commerce has considerably been improved in Balkh as compared to other parts of the country but the business of handicrafts has been experiencing serious problems.
Mohammad Hashim Barna, commerce and industries department head said that handicrafts is one of the leading products of the province, however, the business faces hurdles because of absence of a suitable market.
Importing of Iranian and Turkish carpets has occupied the market of Afghani made carpets, he said, adding the move has negatively affected the industry of carpet weaving.
He that that less wages for carpet weavers and absence of needed focus by the government has globally decreased the carpet weaving industry by five folds in Afghanistan, especially north of the country.
Three years ago, 1,586,000 square meters carpets are being produced in the north annually but the figures has been reduced to average 300, 000 square meters.
Pointing to authority efforts in the north for enhancing the carpet weaving industry, Barna said a carpet design centre has been set up in the province two years ago, which helped trained 45 persons within three months.
With financial support of the United States, construction work on a large factory has been started with carpet washing and sniping is underway in the province, he said.
Maria Rasouli, a member of handcraft union said the industry is flourishing where domestic products are being exported to foreign countries because of its widespread reputation globally.