Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

In Kandahar, a medium-sized pomegranate goes for the equivalent of about 15 US cents, but by the time the fruit reach Kabul they cost about three times that. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

  • Renowned for its reputed health benefits, the pomegranate is a point of pride for Afghan farmers
  • In Kandahar province, the prized crimson fruit could grow to the size of small melons

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Pomegranate farmers in southern Afghanistan — where growing the juicy fruit is an important alternative to opium poppy production — say they are feeling the squeeze this year, with business blemished by chilly weather, pests and export woes.

The prized crimson fruit, globally renowned for its reputed health benefits, is a point of pride for Afghan farmers, particularly in Kandahar province, where luscious pomegranates the size of small melons dangle from trees.

Every autumn, Afghans start drinking pomegranate juice as the fruit bursts into season. Vendors pile carts high with gravity-defying pomegranate pyramids and offer fresh-squeezed beverages.

Haji Abdul Manan, who has been growing fruit in southern Kandahar for about 30 years, said a springtime cold snap damaged pomegranate flowers, impacting about 40 percent of his crop.

Problems also came from “lice, flies and a fungal disease,” he added, likening a type of greenfly to a natural disaster that had ruined more than 100 of the orb-shaped fruits daily.

“It is the duty of the Afghan government to spray all the gardens in Kandahar and to protect the pomegranates from diseases, but the government is not doing anything,” Manan complained.

Apart from its sweet flavor, fans point to pomegranates’ purported health benefits including high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants that are said to help protect the body.

“Kandahar’s pomegranates are the world’s best for flavor, color, and several times Kandahar’s pomegranates came first in competitions abroad,” Nasrullah Zaheer, the head of Kandahar’s chamber of commerce, told AFP.

In Kandahar, a medium-sized pomegranate goes for the equivalent of about 15 US cents, but by the time the fruit reach Kabul they cost about three times that.

Zaheer and several other farmers claimed Pakistan has this year imposed hefty tariffs on pomegranate imports, which, despite a drop in yield in some parts of Afghanistan, has led to an oversupply in the domestic market and sharp price drops.

But the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul denied such a drastic measure had been taken, saying Pakistan had raised duties only slightly because “Afghan exporters consistently understate the value of pomegranates and fruits.”

Muhammad Hafeez, a fruit and vegetable seller at a market in Islamabad, said the pomegranate supply from Kandahar had not been impacted.

“The supply is in bulk and the quality is good,” Hafeez told AFP.

Abdul Baqi Beena, deputy director of the Kandahar chamber of commerce, said about 40,000 to 50,000 tons of pomegranates were exported annually, including to India, Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

For years, Afghanistan and international donors tried to wean farmers from growing opium poppies by encouraging alternatives such as fruit crops.

But those efforts often failed as drug smugglers offered lucrative prices that normally far exceed the income from traditional agriculture.

The US Agency for International Development previously supported the farming of high-value crops, including pomegranates, as an alternative to opium production, but in recent years has shifted its focus to helping build export markets and supporting Afghan farmers that way.

“There is strong regional demand for high-value Afghan products that generate sufficient profit to justify export cost,” Daniel Corle, USAID team lead for development outreach and communications, said in an email.

“These include pomegranates, pine nuts, apricots, spices, gems, marble, and carpets, among others.”


Middle East chief executives share global gloom on economic prospects

Updated 21 January 2020

Middle East chief executives share global gloom on economic prospects

  • Only China and India among the major economic blocs were less pessimistic on average
  • Trade wars, geopolitical tensions and climate change threats were the factors weighing most heavily on executive minds

DAVOS: Global business chiefs are more pessimistic about prospects for the world economy than for many years, and senior executives in the Middle East are among the most gloomy, according to the annual survey of chief executive officers’ opinion released at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

The poll — by consulting firm PwC — showed that a record number of CEOs were pessimistic about the international economy, with an average of 53 percent predicting a decline in the rate of growth in 2020.

While bosses in North America and Europe were particularly downbeat about prospects, with 63 percent and 59 percent saying they thought things would get worse this year, CEOs in the Middle East were also more gloomy than average, with 57 percent predicting lower growth this year.

Only China and India among the major economic blocs were less pessimistic on average, but there was a sharp decline in the number of Chinese executives who wanted to do business with the US — just 11 percent identified the US as their most attractive market, compared with 59 percent two years ago.

Trade wars, geopolitical tensions and climate change threats were the factors weighing most heavily on executive minds — apart from the standard complaints about over-regulation by governments.

Unveiling the 2020 results, PwC chairman Bob Moritz said: “Given the lingering uncertainty over trade tensions, geopolitical issues and the lack of agreement on how to deal with climate change, the drop in confidence in economic growth is not surprising – even if the scale of the change in mood is.”

Last year, there was a record number of CEOs who said they were optimistic about global economic growth, and only 29 percent said they were pessimistic.

“These challenges facing the global economy are not new. However, the scale of them and the speed at which some of them are escalating is new, the key issue for leaders gathering in Davos is: How are we going to come together to tackle them,” Moritz added.

The poll of 1,600 CEOs in 83 countries was taken toward the end of last year, before tensions in the Middle East escalated in the Arabian Gulf, but before the tentative “phase one” agreements on world trade between the US and China.

The poll was also taken before the Australian wildfires further highlighted fears of climate change — a major focus of the WEF meeting.

The poll also found CEOs less confident than ever in their own companies’ prospects, with only 27 percent of CEOs saying they are “very confident” in their own organization’s growth over the next 12 months – the lowest level PwC has recorded since 2009 and down from 35 percent last year.