Afghanistan Promotes Crop More Profitable Than
By Barry Newhouse
Voice of America
03 December 2008
Afghanistan's most famous crop is also its most
notorious. Opium poppies thrive in sun-baked fields
across lawless areas of the country, accounting for
more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply. But
as VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Kabul, there is
one crop that could be even more profitable than the
poppies - if it can reach the right markets.
Afghanistan opium poppies - big business
Southwest Afghanistan is a hub of poppy production,
accounting for nearly all of this year's $3.4 billion
in illegal opium exports.
But the region is also home to another cash crop -
one that foreign donors and Afghan officials are
hoping can replace poppies without reducing farmers'
Pomegrantes sales, possible alternative
The pricey fruits are pomegranates - and in
Afghanistan, there are 48 different kinds - including
a seedless one. With rising demand for nutrient-rich
pomegranate juice in wealthy nations, U.S. and Afghan
officials are trying to connect foreign businesses
with local growers.
William Phillimore is a businessman whose company's
"Pom Wonderful" branded juice has enjoyed a surge in
sales from health-conscious consumers in the United
States. He was invited to Kabul's International
Pomegranate Fair to try the local fruit.
"The Kandahar pomegranate in particular is darker
in color than most of the stuff you get in India,
which tends to be lighter and sweeter with not as much
acid. I think the quality is excellent," Phillimore
said. "And I think that they've got a little work to
do with the packing and sorting and grading and sizing
for the international market because that's what the
international market expects."
Pomegranates in Afghanistan are transported by the
sackful along bumpy roads in trucks, which damages the
fruit and reduces its shelf life. Less than five
percent reach the lucrative export markets abroad.
Afghan officials hope new storage facilities and
better transportation can bring in more income for
"At this moment we have a problem of exports
because very little investment has come into the
processing of Afghan pomegranate," said Syed Suleiman
Fatimi, who heads Afghanistan's export promotion
agency. "We are especially looking into processing the
Afghan pomegranate into concentrate for export or
So far, most of the export efforts have focused on
sending the finest fruit to upscale markets. This
year, U.S. and Afghan funded programs helped send more
than 2,000 tons of the fruit to supermarkets in Dubai.
More than two-and-a-half million trees have been
planted in the last two years. The trees take up to
five years to mature. But once they start producing
fruit, USAID official Loren Stoddard says farmers are
much less likely replace a productive orchard with
"Vegetable crops are great - the reason we like
pomegranates long term is because vegetables you plant
and replant and maybe replace with poppy," Stoddard
stated. Pomegranates you never replace, so it really
is the longer term solution."
Stoddard says farmers who export high-quality fruit
can earn as much as $5,000 per hectare - about 15
percent more than poppies.
Pomegranate business slow now, but forecast
Few farmers are earning that much now. The industry
is still dwarfed by billions of dollars in poppy
exports and threatened by Afghanistan's deteriorating
But pomegranate farmers and buyers are hopeful.
In Kabul's main fruit market, vendors talk of the
growing global demand for the fruit and rising prices.
Hajji Argundabi is sending his end of the season
Kandahari pomegranates to Tajikistan. Next year, he
plans to ship them further.
"In the past, most of our product went to Pakistan.
But now it is staying in Afghanistan and then going to
Dubai and other countries. We will sell even more
pomegranates in the new year," he said.
Afghan pomegranate prices nearly tripled in the
past year when farmers produced about 50,000 metric
tons. This year's harvest could yield as much as 60
percent more fruit - but officials say demand will
still far exceed the country's supply.