By Khalid Zerai
NANGARHAR -- Farmers in Nangarhar Province have found a lucrative alternative to growing poppies for opium, which is illegal and funds the Taliban and other militants dealing in narcotics.
About 15 farmers in Fateh Abad village of Surkh Rod District are cultivating roses on their land, which enables them to earn a good income and to hire others to help harvest the crop.
"We have been cultivating these roses for five years," said Musa Khan, 62. "Before this, I was farming poppies, but I can see these roses make more money than poppy crops do."
Khan said he sells the roses to wholesale buyers at a good price. "I get $1,000 to $1,500 [70,000 AFN to 106,000 AFN] from one jerib [0.2 hectare] of land in a season," he told Salaam Times.
"Poppy crops are illegitimate. They cause destruction in life and the hereafter," he said. "I say that ... cultivating halal crops won't ruin your life after death."
Yar Mohammad Hisaraki, 34, a resident of Surkh Rod District, said he has grown roses on 10 jeribs (2 hectares) of land.
"We collect 2,000kg of roses in a season, which we sell to a rose perfume factory," he told Salaam Times, adding that each plant blossoms ten times in a season.
"Thirty to 50 [paid] labourers work with us in a season ... to collect the [flowers] from the rose plants," he said.
The trend away from poppy cultivation province-wide is noticeable.
"Poppy crops were cultivated on 17,000 hectares in Nangarhar last year, while this year our initial survey shows that this level has decreased by 35%, and God willing, it will further decrease," Mohammad Idrees Sapai, director of the Nangarhar Counter-Narcotics Department, told Salaam Times.
There are two rose perfume factories in Nangarhar that buy from local farmers; one is in Jalalabad and the other is in Dara-e-Noor District.
"Some 1,600 farmers have planted roses in five districts of Nangarhar, and we buy roses from them every season," said Abdullah Arsala, owner of the Orzala perfume factory in Jalalabad.
"There are farmers who earn up to $1,800 [127,000 AFN] from a jerib of land per season, and they sell these roses to us," he told Salaam Times.
The factory extracts essential oils from the roses through distillation, Arsala explained. "We sell the pure [rose] perfume in Germany, and we sell the distillate [rose water] here."
"We started this work in 2003," he said. "At the beginning, people thought we were crazy, but now we have a good business."
Now the company has retail stores in Jalalabad and Kabul and plans to open another in Kandahar, according to the Orzala Naturals Facebook page. The company specialises in high quality natural food and wellness products from across Afghanistan, including rose and orange blossom waters, honey, tea, olive oil and essential oils.
Orzala wants to expand the cultivation of roses to other districts of Nangarhar so that more Afghan farmers can benefit from the business and leave poppy farming behind, Arsala said.
The Nangarhar Counter-Narcotics Department is working to stop the cultivation of poppies and to help farmers cultivate alternative crops.
Roses are a good alternative source of income, said Sapai of the department.
"We are trying to implement alternative projects instead of [cultivating] poppy crops," he told Salaam Times. "Promoting roses is an important part of [the these efforts]."
"We will implement projects for farmers, and we will provide them with opportunities," he said.
"Projects worth $22 million [1.5 billion AFN] are being implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Surkh Rod, Khogyani, Rodat, Momand Dara, Goshta and Dur Baba districts," Sapai told Salaam Times in early April.
Other projects to aid farmers include building dikes, canals and chicken farms; providing farmers with seeds; and rendering other assistance, he said.
Can Russia's efforts help the Taliban and Afghan government reach a lasting peace agreement?