Seeds of hope: Why Afghan farmers no longer give a fig for poppies

Seeds of hope: Why Afghan farmers no longer give a fig for poppies

KABUL: For decades, Afghanistan’s opium harvests earned the country worldwide notoriety. Now it is winning a global reputation with a very different export — fresh and dried fruit.

According to officials at Afghanistan’s Chambers of Commerce and Industries (ACCI), dried and fresh fruit make up 70 percent of exports worth $850 million in the past 11 months. 

Amid rising regional and world demand for pine nuts, saffron and dried figs, Afghanistan has opened a special air corridor for exports to China and has so far sent 1,300 tons of pine nuts there, pushing prices to almost double in Afghan markets.

Market dealers told Arab News on Sunday that 1 kg of pine nuts in Kabul costs almost $40, twice the price before exports began to China.

“There has been far more demand for our fresh and dry fruits in international markets this year,” Jan Agha Nawid, ACCI’s public affairs director, said. 

“There was an exhibition of Afghan fruit in the UAE recently and we have signed contracts for exports with 60 firms of various countries such as the emirates, Saudi Arabia and Western countries,” he said.

The value of dried fig exports has reached $47 million in the past 10 months, while Afghanistan’s saffron is winning a global reputation for quality, sellers said.

“Demand for export of dried fruits to outside markets has pushed up prices here,” Sayed Noorullah, a trader, said. “Sometimes even we struggle to find decent quality fruit for sale because the best is being exported.”

Afghanistan hopes to double its exports to almost $2 billion in the coming year, President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday while announcing the first cargo shipment to India via Chabahar port in southeastern Iran.

The Afghan leader has vowed to “turn Afghanistan from an importer into an exporter.”

Saffron, used in cooking and the production of medicines, has been in demand, officials said. More Afghan farmers are planting the spice instead of opium poppies, with prices soaring on local and global markets.

“Earnings from saffron is high compared with drugs; 1 kg is worth $1,400 in local markets, and can reach $2,000 and even $4,000 on the global market,” Nawid said.

Afghan fruit sellers and farmers are happy they are making a good living from exporting agricultural products, but are also hoping they can abandon opium cultivation.

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