Lying in the shade of a pomegranate tree, Sardar Wali, 50, looks forward to an abundant crop. Pointing at the fruit on the trees, he said, “Do you see these pomegranates? Once they’re ripe, their seeds will be visible even through the skin. They fetch a very good price. Most people give these pomegranates to friends and relatives as a gift.”
The 2,000 pomegranate trees in Wali’s orchard in Kandahar province produce up to 112 tons of fruit a year, and these days there is no shortage of buyers.
“As soon as our pomegranate trees blossom, the traders come and talk to us. They buy up the whole orchard,” he told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
Pomegranates have always been an important crop in Afghanistan, and production has revived over the last decade. In Kandahar province, farmers say pomegranates offer a viable alternate to poppy.
“People are now more interested in planting pomegranate orchards than poppy, because the revenue is good and it isn’t illegal, either. I want pomegranates on the rest of my land, too,” Wali said.
Sher Mohammad, an agriculture official, said that the area covered by pomegranate orchards was on the increase, and that 300 new plantations had appeared in Arghandab district alone.
“We organise workshops for orchard owners on growing and protecting different fruits,” he said. “Public awareness sessions have been held in every district and a farmers’ association has been set up which now provides cut-price pomegranate saplings at a lower price in some districts.”
Abdul Baqi, deputy chairman of the Kandahar Chamber of Commerce, said that up to 7,000 tons of pomegranates, worth 1.5 million US dollars, were exported last year, on top of the grapes, melons, almonds, raisins and figs grown in the province and sold abroad.
Most pomegranates went to India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, he said, although for the last five years some had been flown via Dubai to The Netherlands and Germany.
Farmers and traders seem happy with their earnings.
“My cousin had pomegranates planted on 40,000 square metres of land,” Kandahar resident Pahlawan said. “He expanded the orchard over a further 10,000 sq m last year. The fact that he created a new orchard shows that pomegranates make a good profit.”
Shah Agha, an elderly gardener with a lot of experience of tending saplings, said his skills were now in high demand.
“When the season for saplings starts in October and November, I have no spare time. It isn’t easy to prune the saplings; it takes skill and a steady hand. I make no mistakes with my saplings, so my services are sought after.”
Sher Agha said he believed pomegranate cultivation was reducing the scale of poppy farming in Kandahar.
Local traders are also cashing in.
Nurullah, a large-scale trader, said the market was booming, although cold storage facilities were going to be needed as production expanded.
“I bought 100,000 dollars-worth of pomegranates last year. I exported some and sold the rest to other provinces within the country,” he said. “I made a delicious profit.”