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.”


Dow drops 1,000 points as pandemic fears heighten

Updated 29 February 2020

Dow drops 1,000 points as pandemic fears heighten

  • The benchmark S&P 500 fell about 12 percent

BENGALURU: The Dow Jones Industrials slumped more than 1,000 points in intraday trading for the third time this week on Friday, as the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak raised fears of global recession.

Over the week, virus fears have wiped nearly $3 trillion off the combined market value of S&P 500 companies, putting the three main indexes on track for their worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis.

As the world prepares for a potential pandemic, investors rushed to safe assets, deepening an inversion of the US Treasury yield curve, a classic recession signal.

The benchmark S&P 500 fell about 12 percent from its record closing high hit last week, confirming its fastest correction in history on Thursday.

In morning trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1,058.08 points, or 4.11 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 118.91 points, or 3.99 percent.

All the 11 S&P sectors shed at least 2 percent and the defensive utilities, consumer staples and real estate sectors dropped more than 3 percent. The three sectors have outperformed the benchmark index this month.

“This selling is a bit extreme for something that we don’t know enough about,” said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York.

“What I do know is that the coronavirus is not going to lead us into a financial crisis that is long lasting. It could put us in a technical recession, but the real concern is does that recession cause the US consumer to pare back on spending?“

While the magnitude of the economic damage from the containment measures, which have crippled supply chains and hit business investment, remained unclear, analysts have sharply downgraded their outlook for growth and corporate earnings.

Adding to worries, the Commerce Department’s data on Friday showed US consumer spending rose less than expected in January, a loss of momentum that could be exacerbated by the virus outbreak.

Traders are now pricing in an interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve as soon as next month, but many have expressed doubts about how this would mitigate the impact of the outbreak.

Among individual stocks, Mylan NV dropped 6 percent after the drugmaker cautioned a financial hit from the coronavirus outbreak and warned of drug shortages in case of continued spread of the virus.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 9.24-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 4.63-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded no new 52-week highs and 108 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 11 new highs and 386 new lows.