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Afghan Pomegranate Trade Bears Fruit
Pomegranates from Kandahar ready for processing at Afghanistan's first juice concentrate factory. Kabul, October 2009. (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Officials and farmers in Kandahar are celebrating both bumper crops and rising exports of the province’s famously fine pomegranates.
This fruit has always been an important harvest in Afghanistan, and production has revived over the last decade. In Kandahar, once the epicentre of Taleban power and still a trouble-spot, farmers say pomegranates offer a viable alternate to opium poppies.
Abdul Baqi Bena, deputy director of Kandahar’s chamber of commerce, said that Kandahar’s pomegranate was known for its quality, colour and taste both nationally and internationally.
Exports had increased by 35 per cent compared to last year, he continued, adding that nearly 23,000 tonnes of pomegranates had been exported to Pakistan, Dubai, India and the US from Kandahar this year. Last year, exports to these countries amounted to 14,750 tonnes.
“Most of our pomegranate is exported to foreign countries via land routes, with a much smaller quantity exported via air,” Bena said. “This year we have exported 128 tonnes of pomegranate to India, 22,630 tonnes to Pakistan, about ten tonnes to Dubai and about one and-a-half tonnes to US this year.”|
These exports had brought in nearly four million US dollars, he continued, noting that his figures did not include fruit sold on the black market.
Fruit makes up a significant part of Afghanistan’s exports. Khan Jan Alokozai, deputy chairman of the Afghan chamber of commerce, said that Afghanistan exported about 145,000 tonnes of fresh fruit in the first six months of this year, a figure he expected to rise to 180,000 tonnes by the end of March 2018.
Officials from Kandahar’s agriculture, irrigation and livestock department said that the province had 7,500 hectares of pomegranate orchards, mostly in the districts of Arghandab and Arghistan. The provincial government is investing significant efforts in planting new trees and supporting production.
Department director Hafizullah Syedi said that their agricultural workers helped pomegranate farmers develop new orchards each year, as well as offering workshops on the proper care and development of the crop.
This helped pomegranate saplings mature and give fruit in three rather than four years, he said, with early autumn was the most important time for harvesting the fruit.
Over the next year, the department planned to plant pomegranate trees on 1,400 hectares of land in the districts of Kandahar with the most suitable climate and soil.
Pomegranate farmer Mohammad Umar Jan, from Arghandab district, said that he appreciated the support he received from the local authorities.
“Officials from the department of agriculture, irrigation and livestock frequently organise and inspect our orchards and teach us new methods,” he said, adding that as a small-scale producer he was content to sell directly to Kandahar’s markets rather than exporting.
Umar Jan said, “I am quite happy and satisfied with the money I earn from pomegranates.”
But while pomegranate crops are flourishing, export opportunities are not keeping pace. Pakistan has long been the main market for Afghan products, including fruit. But prices can be low and logistical problems include a lack of cold storage and reliable transport routes.
In an attempt to break this domination, an air trade route was launched between India and Afghanistan in June 2017, and producers continue to call for improved export opportunities.
Nonetheless, those trading the fruit say that are happy with what has become a lucrative occupation.
Ghazni resident Sadruddin said that he had begun exporting pomegranate do the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore, explaining that each ten kilogramme box of pomegranates cost him four dollars direct from the producers. These were exported at a cost of two dollars, to be sold in Pakistan for eight dollars a box.
“Some people export pomegranates to India and Dubai, and some people even export to European countries,” he said, adding, “My business is great and I earn a lot of money and am happy with it.”
This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.
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