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

In this picture taken on April 21, 2014, Afghan farmers slice open the green poppy bulbs, swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, on a poppy field in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. (AP file photo)
Updated 24 February 2019

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

  • Fruit, spices replace opium as global demand fuels $2bn market 

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.


3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

Updated 28 February 2020

3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

  • The force would be a significant new player in the Sahel where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year
  • The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: African leaders have decided to work on deploying 3,000 troops to West Africa’s troubled Sahel region as extremist attacks surge, an African Union official said Thursday.
The force would be a significant new player in the sprawling, arid region south of the Sahara Desert where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year — at times working together in an unprecedented move.
The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems. That has sparked pressure from worried security allies including France and regional countries as well as a rare bipartisan outcry among lawmakers in Washington.
Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, relayed the new troop decision that was taken at the recent AU summit during a meeting Thursday with visiting European Union officials.
The AU continental body is expected to work with the West African regional counterterror force G5 Sahel as well as the West African regional body ECOWAS, which has formed peacekeeping units in the past, Chergui said.
ECOWAS in September announced what Chergui called a “very bold” plan to counter extremism in the region, including mobilizing up to $1 billion through 2024.
“As you see and recognize yourself, the threat is expanding and becoming more complex,” Chergui said. “Terrorists are now even bringing a new modus operandi from Afghanistan and Al-Shabab” in Somalia.
It was not immediately clear what the next steps would be in forming the AU force for the Sahel, which has become the most active region in Africa for extremist attacks.
The force would join France’s largest overseas military operation, the 5,100-strong Barkhane, and the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, one of the hardest-hit countries in the attacks along with Burkina Faso and Niger.