The provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Zabul in AFGHANISTAN have always been close to the heart of the world trade in opium, and later heroin. Poppy cultivation was banned, but not for the first time. Almost every government in Afghanistan’s war-torn history has tried to do the same.
The eternal problems facing the rulers of the country are very few alternative ways of earning a living in the undeveloped mountains, and that the profits from trade are simply far more than can be found in other legal activities.
“Strawberries could be a suitable alternative to poppies if agricultural authorities support farmers,” said agriculture official Mohammad Allah Nuri. The demand for strawberries is high and fairly constant, prompting farmers in Dand, Arghandab and Zhari districts to change plantations.
“We have planted over 50 acres (of strawberries) in the past three years and the process is on the rise,” Nuri said. “Farmers can harvest 150 kg of strawberries from an acre. At the local bazaar, strawberries sell for around 200 Afghanis (US$2.5) per kg.
Kandahar, which is already famous for growing pomegranate, apricot, peach and grape, growing and exporting strawberries would further gain popularity for the southern province.
“I grow strawberries on five acres in Zhari,” farmer Aziz Ahmad Ahmadi told Xinhua recently. “I earn up to 500,000 Afghanis (about US$5,688) from my land every year.”
The poppy ban will force farmers to look for alternatives, and the provincial directorate of agriculture will provide support, Nuri said, adding that some farmers in Kandahar have also switched to beekeeping and honey production.
Strawberry cultivation is relatively new to Afghanistan, and farmers need help learning the best care and handling of plants and fruits.
The women farmers will supply 10 wholesalers with fruits which will be packaged and sold in the markets. A plot of just a quarter of an acre (minimum size required for this project) has the potential to generate an income of $500 per year, or 50% more than GNI.
Around 80% of Afghans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and half of the country’s gross domestic product comes from agricultural activities.
Afghan women make up around 54% of the agricultural labor force and are key players in the production, harvesting and processing of fresh produce.
Yet rural Afghan women have limited, if any, access to vital resources and services in the areas of training, extension, credit, inputs, and trade and marketing networks.
Despite Afghanistan’s favorable growing conditions, strawberry cultivation is still relatively new to the country. For this reason, technical training is essential to the success of the project.