In the midst of escalating conflict and worsening hunger in Afghanistan, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) agricultural programmes are increasing fruit exports. Programmes to rehabilitate fruit orchards destroyed by the war, to replace opium crops, are linked with export supply chains complete with transportation, storage, processing, packaging and marketing. Pomegranates are a key crop, and Afghan varieties, with dark red juice and acid taste as well as sweetness, are widely regarded as the best in the world. Pomegranates are hailed as a ‘superfood’ full of antioxidants and fetch a high price in the US, Europe and Middle East and Asia. Afghanistan’s pomegranate exports increased 10 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007, totalling 45,000 tonnes, about half of a total pomegranate crop of 96,000 tonnes.
Independent newspaper as a ‘beacon of hope’ for the future of Afghanistan farming. The key flagship product is pomegranate juice and the factory aims to buy fruit including pomegranates, apples and apricots from 50,000 Afghan farmers. About 5,000 tonnes of fruit were expected to be processed by the end of 2009, with plans for 25,000 tonnes in 2010. The factory has contracts to supply India and several countries in the Middle East, and is negotiating to supply Europe and the US.
The USAID supported Badam Bagh Demonstration Farm in the north of Kabul trains Afghan farmers in ‘modern’ farming methods, such as how to use gas powered insecticide spraying machines and protective equipment when working with poisonous pesticides. The farm does showcase some small scale techniques like different methods of drying fruit, but the emphasis is not on rehabilitating the varied traditional skills of Afghan farmers, but transplanting modern agribusiness into Afghanistan, with all its problems such as fossil fuel dependency, input intensity and large scale infrastructure, such as irrigation with a single 10 cm pipe from Kargha Lake 10 kilometres to the west of Kabul all the way to the farm.
The farm has an export centre with fruit including pomegranates, grapes and apricots flowing in from nearly every province of Afghanistan. An agreement has been made with India to supply 3,000 tonnes of apples from the Wardek and Paktika provinces, with the first shipment delivered in November 2009. The emphasis is on exports, not supplying fresh produce to malnourished Afghans. An article on the USAID website highlights a delivery of produce including watermelons, broccoli and sweetcorn from Badam Bagh farm to refugees in Camp Hilmand in Kabul to 110 families, but this fresh produce was a one-off exception to their usual diet based on bags of flour.
At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 the US declared that the country would regain its self sufficiency in food by 2007. Yet Afghans are suffering worsening food insecurity due to a complex of factors including the war, drought conditions and high food prices. By 2009 7.4 million people, a third of the Afghan population, are unable to meet their basic food needs, 54 per cent of children suffer stunted growth and the World Food Programme was aiming to feed 8.8 million people. A BBC article highlights people living in Parwan, a relatively peaceful province with fertile land, as particularly badly affected by malnutrition and hunger. Food aid supplies are inadequate, and not reaching the people who need it. Even farm workers in Parwan are suffering from hunger. Yet in a two-week period in July 2009 $110,000 worth of cherries, apricots and melons were exported from the Kandahar, Wardak and Parwan provinces via Badam Bagh farm to India and the UAE.