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.


Riot police on Greek islands as work begins on new migrant camps

Updated 25 February 2020

Riot police on Greek islands as work begins on new migrant camps

  • There are more than 38,000 migrants crowded into camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos
  • The UN’s refugee chief on Friday called for urgent action to address the “shocking and shameful” conditions migrants are forced to live in

ATHENS: Riot police were dispatched to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios on Tuesday as the government plowed ahead with the construction of controversial new migrant camps, officials said.

At the harbors of both islands, where hundreds of local residents had gathered, police used tear gas to clear the way for security force reinforcements and construction machinery, a police source told AFP.

At Chios harbor on Mesta, some hooded protesters threw stones as scores of riot police disembarked, TV footage showed.

Residents have parked cars and garbage trucks on roads leading to the camp sites, which are to house up to 7,000 people each, in an attempt to hobble their construction.

“There are roadblocks. We will intervene where necessary,” a police source told AFP.

After weeks of fruitless talks with local authorities, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the weekend insisted that the plan would go ahead despite opposition.

“The works will begin immediately and will be completed. There is no turning back,” he told conservative party cadres on Sunday.
Main opposition leftist party Syriza has accused the government of undemocratic behavior.

“We will not allow Mr. Mitsotakis and his government to turn the islands into a battle ground,” said Syriza spokesman Alexis Charitsis.

There are more than 38,000 migrants crowded into camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos despite an official capacity of just 6,200.

Island officials and residents have told the Greek government that after five years on the front lines of the European migration crisis, they are no longer prepared to accept thousands of asylum-seekers.

The conservative government which came to power in July has announced that the camps on Lesbos, Samos and Chios will be shut down this year, to be replaced with new, smaller facilities that are to be operational by mid-2020.

But while the Mitsotakis administration tries to alleviate the problem by relocating thousands of migrants to other parts of Greece, many communities on the mainland have also stonewalled the move.

The UN’s refugee chief on Friday called for urgent action to address the “shocking and shameful” conditions migrants are forced to live in at reception centers on the Greek islands.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi said swift measures were needed to reduce overcrowding and improve living conditions on the islands prioritising water, sanitation and health care, as the winter weather was exacerbating the situation.