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.

LIVE: Davos 2020 Day One - Thunberg slams elites, Trump hails US economic rebound

Updated 3 min 19 sec ago

LIVE: Davos 2020 Day One - Thunberg slams elites, Trump hails US economic rebound

  • Discussion panels featuring a number of high profile figures from the political, business and civil world.
  • Environment and climate issues on agenda, but Iran and Lebanon expected to feature heavily

The World Economic Forum 2020 started on Tuesday in Davos in Switzerland. Greta Thunberg kicked off the three day forum in a panel discussion on Sustainable Path towards a Common Future.

There will be discussion panels featuring a number of high profile figures from the political, business and civil world.

They will discuss a wide range of subjects including the environment and climate issues, but Iran and Lebanon are expected to feature heavily.

Follow Arab News’ coverage below

13:45 - Bollywood superstar and mental health ambassador Deepika Padukone has a very honest and inspiring conversation with World Health Organization's director-general about her own experiences with mental illness and how the stigma surrounding it can be ended...

In 2017, Padukone spoke vividly about her struggle with depression and the stigma that surrounded it. She also described how she decided to speak out, so others wouldn't have to suffer in the same way she did. Watch the Crystal Awardee speaking earlier at Davos:

13:00 - Saudi Arabia's Minister for Communications and IT Abdullah Al-Swaha has been speaking on a panel about the strategic outlook for Middle East economies. He makes the salient point that if countries want their economies to grow, they must focus on youth, technology and the empowerment of women...

11:30 - US President Donald Trump reverted to his role as salesman Tuesday, telling a gathering of the world's top businessmen in the Swiss Alps that he's led a “spectacular” turnaround of the US economy and encouraged them to invest in America.

He reminded the audience that when he spoke here two years ago, early in his presidency, “I told you that we had launched the great American comeback."

“Today I’m proud to declare the United States is in the midst of an economic boom, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” the president said.

11:00 - Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson delivered a special message from Pope Francis. He called on everyone to remember that we are all members of one human family, and that we have a moral obligation to care for one another.

And he asked for a renewed ethical approach in the forthcoming discussions, including in the discipline of economics.

10:30 - The historian Yuval Noah Harari struck a pessimistic note at the opening of this session on the technology arms race. 

"On the most shallow level it could be a repeat of the 19thcentury industrial revolution, when the leaders had the chance to dominate the world economically and politically... I understand the current arms race as an imperial arms race... You don't need to send the soldiers in if you have all the data on a country," says Harari.

10:00 - In one of the first sessions of the WEF, Greta Thunberg said the voices of science and youth need to be at the center of the conversations on environment and future during “Forging a Sustainable Path towards a Common Future” panel discussion. 

Read more on her speech hereThunberg condemns climate inaction as Trump joins Davos