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Prized Afghan pomegranates offer export hope to farmers

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$120-million USAID development project aims to start fruitful export

CBC News (Canada) / November 22, 2007

Ruby-red pomegranates famously grown in Afghanistan are part of a new development project aimed at starting a fruit export market after years of the illegal opium trade.

Treasured as the best in the world, Afghanistan’s prized pomegranates — grown from shrubs in Kandahar province — will for the first time this year make their way to the lips of Canadian, European and Asian consumers.

“It’s very good fruit. It’s good for health, it’s good for the blood and digestion,” farmer Akhtar Mohammed said, cracking open one of the baseball-sized pomegranates to show off the red kernels inside.

Boxes of the pomegranates will play the latest role in a $120-million United States Agency for International Development project aimed at keeping the war-torn country out of the Taliban’s grip.

While Afghans have long known how tasty Kandahar’s pomegranates are, the fruit has largely been closed off from the rest of the world after nearly three decades of conflict and chronic drought. Shipments have only made it as far as Pakistan and India.

Now USAID is paying to box and ship the age-old crop to more foreign markets. The American government agency has helped open a new cold storage facility near Kandahar city to store the fruit.

Soon, shipments of pomegranates stamped “Product of Afghanistan” already resting in a hangar at the main military base near Kandahar will be loaded onto planes destined for markets in Vancouver, London and Singapore.

$1 million from pomegranates

It’s hoped that sustained economic growth from legal crops could help abolish the opium business.

“It’s very important because the main profit is going to the farmers,” Mohammed Gula, a program manager with USAID, told CBC News. “They’re the ones affected with the war, so with these pomegranates going on to international countries, they’ll earn some good money.”

An export market for the pomegranates will be expected to draw in at least $1 million for the local economy this year, following years of illegal cultivation of opium from poppy fields that dot much of the country. Poppies produce the raw ingredients for heroin, and Afghanistan accounts for 93 per cent of the world’s opium production.

Compared with the $1 billion generated by the poppy trade, though, exporting fruit may not seem so lucrative.

Still, fruit trader Haji Nasuallah said he was thrilled with the prospects.

“My hope is not only for pomegranates but for other fruits in our country, like grapes that we can peacefully export … which is very good for Afghanistan,” he said. “We don’t have fuel or gas or other exports to make our country famous. The only thing we have is fruit.”

Kandahar Gov. Assadullah Khalid said he hoped that in the next year, the market could expand to include grapes.

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Written by afghandevnews

November 23, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Agriculture, Aid, Economy, Trade

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