Afghans Expanding Pomegranate Exports

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Farming is challenging in Afghanistan. Pomegranate farmers in the Arghandab district abandoned their fields this month and headed toward the relative safety of Kandahar city after Taliban fighters moved into the region for several days.

USAID opened the cold storage facility in September and is trying to increase contacts with potential buyers overseas. Farmers are being taught to produce raisins away from Kandahar's dusty earth; cleaner raisins can fetch up to four times more at market.

Western aid workers dress in local outfits and travel the province to link buyers and sellers.

"War creates a lack of communication and so some of what our guys are doing is reintroducing Afghans to buyers who have changed over 30 years," Stoddard said.

The program has helped ship 690 tons of pomegranates to India, 600 tons to Pakistan and 36 tons to Dubai, mostly on military flights.

A sample 1,000-pound shipment was also sent to the United States, said Mohammad Gul, a USAID program officer in Kandahar.

The pomegranate growers say Taliban fighters _ who recruit gunmen and force some farmers into the poppy trade across Afghanistan's south _ leave them alone.

"This is a business we've inherited from our ancestors," said Hayatullah Khan. "The Taliban never say that we should grow poppy instead of pomegranates."

Khan said the success of the pomegranate project could lure other farmers back into legal crops, though the trend is currently in the opposite direction. Kandahar province in 2007 saw a 32 percent increase in the amount of land devoted to poppies.

To increase production, Afghanistan needs a better electrical grid. Only the western city of Herat, which imports power from Iran, has reliable electricity. The municipal grid in Kabul on average provides only three hours of electricity a day.

"The No. 1 challenge to agribusiness is electricity," Stoddard said. "You can't keep things cold and you can't bottle them without power."


Associated Press writer Jason Straziuso in Kabul contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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