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    Making money without marijuana: Afghan farmers enabled to grow legal crops



    Story by Staff Sgt. Brendan Mackie  

    117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (Hawaii)

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan – Cannabis is the most lucrative cash crop in Afghanistan, generating an annual income of more than $9,000 per farmer, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Last year, a Robat-area farmer more than doubled that amount by growing and exporting an even more profitable, but legal, crop: sweet melons.

    With assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Army civil affairs, farmers in Afghanistan now network with traders to sell legal crops such as melons for higher prices in markets such as India and Dubai.

    “Products such as pomegranates, apricots, almonds, figs, melons, grapes and pistachios are receiving increasingly higher prices in these new markets,” said Steve Tavella, a field program officer for USAID. “Increased stability enables farmers to invest more time and money in their businesses without fear of war ravaging their land.”

    Farmers in the district of Spin Boldak traditionally export their goods across the international border to Pakistan due to its close proximity and liberal export policies.

    Pakistani traders are often willing to assist Afghan farmers financially in return for a lower and fixed rate on their products, Tavella said.

    Because of the Kandahar province drought that started in the 1990s, water is generally only found in wells deep underground.

    Afghan farmers are often forced to accept loans from Pakistani traders in order to run expensive diesel-operated equipment needed to pump water for the crops.

    “A lot of these [Afghan] people are just trying to survive, which is seen by the way some never get out of debt from Pakistan,” said Capt. Pennie Llorente, team chief with Civil Affairs Team 613 here. “They, more or less, are living paycheck to paycheck.”

    USAID assists local farmers in obtaining loans from different sources in an effort to disconnect them from these ‘middle men’ and by linking them up with traders in the more lucrative markets who are eager to buy their products at higher prices.

    In addition to assistance with loans and networking, USAID offers training for these farmers.

    “We have provided training in integrated pest management, proper pesticide application, personal protection, and proper storage of these chemicals,” said Tavella. “As we have assisted in opening up new markets, we have also provided training in sorting, grading and packing produce for these markets.”

    Teamwork is also a priority for USAID and civil affairs in Spin Boldak; farmers are now forming cooperatives where they are now able to own and control their business by increasing their strength in numbers.

    Since last year, almost 200 farmers joined the cooperative in the Robat area of the Spin Boldak district.

    “Cooperatives provide an assured source of supply. If one farmer's crop fails there are other sources of supply,” said Tavella. “By pooling supply purchases, sales, and handling and selling expenses, cooperatives can operate more efficiently-at lower costs per unit-than farmers can individually.”

    All these proactive measures are incentives for farmers to grow licit crops. This also provides the farmers with legal alternatives in order to maintain financial stability.

    Farmers face the threat of illicit crop eradication by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Certain districts in the country are already having illegal crops eradicated.

    “If we eradicate the illicit crops without providing a comparable alternative, we take away their livelihoods,” Llorente said. “By broadening their market base, the farmers will have more avenues to sell their crops for a higher price.”

    “As this GIRoA initiative matures, farmers assume increasing risk of losing their crops, and significant income,” Tavella said. “If a farmer has taken out loans with drug lords, failure to repay can translate to consequences that risk the safety of the farmer and his family.”

    Although many farmers have profited by selling legal produce, it is unclear how long it will take for the majority of farmers to meet or possibly exceed the prices paid for illegal crops.

    “That will take several years to determine,” Llorente said. “It has to be more of a commitment of the farmers that understand that selling illicit crops is not contributing to the development of their nation.”

    Shadullah Khan, vice president of the Afghan-led Robat cooperative, said that his farmers are grateful, and have benefited from all the training and assistance offered to improve their way of life.

    “My dream is to sell mainly to other international markets,” Khan said, “get rid of those illegal crops and get a better name for Afghanistan.”



    Date Taken: 07.29.2012
    Date Posted: 07.29.2012 06:04
    Story ID: 92319

    Web Views: 745
    Downloads: 2