Afghan raisin houses get a facelift to boost productivity

Afghan farmer Abdul Jalil Gulzar sits by a pile of raisins in the squat mud brick shed where generations of his family have dried their grape harvest. (AFP)
Updated 20 December 2017
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Afghan raisin houses get a facelift to boost productivity

DHI SAHZ, AFGHANISTAN: Afghan farmer Abdul Jalil Gulzar sits by a pile of raisins in the squat mud brick shed where generations of his family have dried their grape harvest.
Such traditional huts have long been used to hang and desiccate the fruit, but now the keshmesh khanas — the Dari term for raisin houses — are getting a facelift as Afghanistan looks to improve its yield.
The country once accounted for 10 percent of the global raisin market, but nearly four decades of conflict have driven its share of the world market down to just 2-3 percent.
In a bid to boost productivity and earnings, the agriculture ministry and aid groups are financing new modern khanas.
“The new raisin house has much more capacity and they have a single purpose (to dry the grapes),” Gulzar told AFP inside the rustic khana built by his father in Dhi Sabz district near Kabul.
The Afghan agricultural sector, is the main driver of the economy and biggest employer.
Hajji Malek Zabet shows off his new brick raisin house near the Afghan capital. Inside the cement-floored room are neat rows of metal hanging racks where grapes drape down like vines in a jungle.
Afghanistan boasts nearly 100 varieties of grapes which are grown across the country and celebrated in popular poetry, nursery rhymes and proverbs.
In the absence of a winemaking industry, which is prohibited in the Islamic country, many farmers turn their grapes into raisins which are easier to conserve and bring a higher price.
Fresh grapes sell for an average of 300 afghanis (about $4.50) for seven kilogrammes, while just one kilogramme of raisins fetches more than 1,000 afghanis.
Though the profits are nothing compared to the amount farmers can reap from what is now Afghanistan’s biggest export: opium, the lifeblood of the Taliban insurgency and an economic lynchpin for many Afghans.
A recent UN report showed that the area under poppy cultivation has hit a record high, underscoring the importance of providing farmers with successful alternatives.
Afghanistan produced nearly 900,000 tons of grapes last year. However it only exported a fraction — 111,000 tons of fresh grapes and 15,000 tons of raisins, according to government data.
A lack of cold storage facilities and strict import requirements in many overseas markets means the bulk of Afghanistan’s grape crop ends up being sold in local bazaars at harvest time, causing a glut and driving down prices.
“Basically these new keshmesh khanas have three effects: they remove fresh grapes from the market and improve the quality of the process and product, and support prices,” said Abdul Samad Kamawi, national horticulture coordinator at the agriculture ministry.
But even with the improvements, Afghanistan’s rudimentary growing and processing methods means accessing export markets beyond Pakistan, India, the UAE and Russia is difficult.
“Despite their know-how Afghans are still struggling to meet European criteria which are increasingly stringent,” a Western importer told AFP.
Some companies are going hi-tech to lift the quality of their raisins.
Tabasom, a major exporter, has two production lines in Kabul equipped with X-ray machines and metal detectors to ensure only the best raisins are packed and sent abroad.
The drying process in the new brick and cement khanas is quicker and cleaner, but Gulzar is stubbornly keeping his earthen raisin house where his family often seeks shelter during the hot summer months.
“They are cooler,” he said, sitting happily on the dirt floor surrounded by hay and bunches of garlic.


Expert calls for self-examination for early detection of breast cancer

One in every eight women will suffer from breast cancer in her lifetime. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Expert calls for self-examination for early detection of breast cancer

  • Women in Saudi Arabia have become more aware of the disease and receive support from their families

JEDDAH: In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Amel Merdad is providing a helpful guide about the disease to women .
Recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that more than 1.2 million breast cancer cases are diagnosed worldwide each year. Breast cancer kills more than 500,000 women a year. The disease ranks second in cancer incidence, after lung cancer, worldwide.
One in every eight women will breast cancer in her lifetime.
The evolution of scientific research and increased awareness have contributed significantly to the increase in recovery rates, as a result of early detection of the disease.
Ten percent of breast cancer cases occur as a result of genetic mutations inherited by the generations in a family.
The incidence of breast cancer increases with age, and it usually occurs after age 40. The average age of breast cancer patients in Saudi Arabia is 48 years and it is so worldwide. Dr. Merdad provided her advice on early screening methods. “Periodic self-breast examination helps women to be aware and familiar with their breasts so they can take care of them, being healthy and not only pretty.
Dr. Merdad added that self-breast examination is to be done once a month on the sixth or seventh day of the menstrual cycle from the age of 20 and forward. “In the case of menopause, self-examination takes place on the same date every month,” she said.
She also gave these useful guidelines:

Self testing
Stand in front of the mirror and look at the breasts to check for anything unusual, such as the presence of lumps or differences in the size of the breasts or the presence of swelling or changes in skin or nipple.
Put your hands behind your head to notice in the mirror for any difference in the lower part of your breasts. Put your hands on your waist and bend forward slightly with the pressure of the shoulders and elbows forward to check for any change in the shape or size of the breasts.
Lift your left hand and use three fingers from the right hand to examine the left breast in a circular way from the outer edge of the breast and in the direction of the nipple, focusing on the area between the breast and armpit and area under the armpit.
Repeat this step with your right breast. Press the nipple gently to observe any abnormal discharge. Repeat the previous steps while lying on your back.

Screening
Age 20-40 years old: Self-examination is recommended monthly. Also check with your doctor every three years. An ultrasound is recommended for the breast examination only if necessary.
Age 40-65 years: Self-examination is recommended monthly and check with the doctor every year. Mammograms are indicated once every one to two years for all women.
More than 65 years: Monthly self-examination and check with your doctor annually. Schedule a mammogram every two to five years.
Dr. Merdad said that taking care of a woman psychologically plays an important role in enhancing the cure rate.
“To all women. Protect your health, have a great life, and screen yourselves for breast cancer,” she added.