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.

Truck drives into US crowd protesting George Floyd killing, underscoring volatile situation

Updated 01 June 2020

Truck drives into US crowd protesting George Floyd killing, underscoring volatile situation

  • Protesters managed to stop the truck and beat up the driver, who was later arrested by police
  • A New York City Police car earlier drove into a crowd of protesters who were pelting it with objects

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota: A tanker truck drove through thousands of people marching on a Minneapolis highway to protest the death of George Floyd on Sunday before protesters dragged the driver from the cab and beat him, according to a Reuters witness and authorities.
It did not appear any of the marchers were injured when the truck raced toward them on I-35, blowing its horn, sending protesters scattering before coming to a stop, according to the witness and a tweet by the Minnesota Department of Public Security (MNDPS).
Police arrived soon after and arrested the truck driver, who was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, MNDPS said.
Video of the incident shows protesters swarming the vehicle before it comes to a stop.

Protesters hand over to police the driver of a tanker truck after he drove into a crowd marching on 35W north bound highway in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Eric Miller)

“The incident just underscores the volatile situation we have out there,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz told a news conference, adding he did not know the motives of the driver.
It marked the second incident in as many days of a vehicle driving at people protesting Floyd’s death after a New York City Police car was captured on video on Saturday driving into a crowd of protesters who were pelting it with objects.
“Very disturbing actions by a truck driver on I-35W, inciting a crowd of peaceful demonstrators,” MNDPS tweeted.
Video showed the truck had a logo on its side for “Kenan Advantage Group,” an Ohio-based transportation company.
The company said in a statement that it was informed of an incident involving one of its independent contractors in Minneapolis and it would be cooperating with investigating authorities.
MNDPS did not identify the driver but said the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were investigating the incident as a criminal matter.