HERAT -- In an effort to boost farmers' income and increase Afghanistan's raisin production, the Ministry of Agriculture has started to build thousands of raisin houses in 10 provinces.
These raisin houses will help increase production of high quality raisins that comply with export standards, officials say.
Construction of more than 4,000 raisin houses in Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, Helmand, Ghazni, Parwan, Sar-e-Pul, Faryab, Zabul and Paktia provinces has already started, said Akbar Rustami, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
The total cost of building the raisin houses is more than 1.6 billion AFN ($20.8 million), funding for which comes from the Afghan government budget and is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Rustami said.
Each raisin house costs 370,000 AFN ($4,800) to build.
"These raisin houses can collectively store more than 70,000 tonnes of grapes, meaning that 70,000 tonnes of grapes will be processed into raisins this year in these raisin houses," he said.
Construction of the raisin houses began at the end of July, and all the raisin houses will be completed in the next 30 to 45 days, Rustami said on August 10.
Creating job opportunities
Construction of the raisin houses in Herat Province has provided jobs for thousands of young Afghans and for farmers, local authorities say.
Of the more than 4,400 planned raisin houses across Afghanistan, 1,026 will be situated in Herat Province, said Bashir Ahmad Ahmadi, deputy director for technical matters of the Herat Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
"The raisin house building project is entirely a job creation initiative," he said. "More than 100 daily wage labourers work in every raisin house. One engineer has been assigned to monitor the construction work at each raisin house."
The raisin houses are being built in 12 districts of the province that have high grape production, with most located in Guzara, Injil, Obe and Pashtun Zarghun districts, Ahmadi said.
Building the houses is a fundamental government project that has created thousands of jobs for young Afghans, said Abdul Aziz, a farmer in Guzara District.
"More than 200 people have found a variety of jobs in the construction of each raisin house," he said.
"These raisin houses will help us produce higher quality raisins," he said. "Previously, we used to lay grapes on the ground in our houses, which resulted in black and lower quality raisins. But with these raisin houses, we'll be able to produce better raisins."
"The building of these raisin houses is important for the country's economy and security," he added.
"Everyone is busy working on the raisin houses -- from bricklayers and brick-makers ... to those who transport the construction materials and work in building the raisin houses," said Aqa Muhammad, a farmer in Guzara District.
"The raisin houses have created jobs for young people and farmers," he said.
"This is definitely an essential project, and we praise and are happy with this initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture," he said.
"The government has helped greatly in boosting our vegetable and fruit production," said Muhammad Anwar Qalandari, a farmer in Guzara District.
"We call on the Taliban not to destroy the projects the government has built [for us], and we encourage them as Afghans to contribute to the country's prosperity," he said.
"Alleviating poverty and hardship that Afghans suffer from necessitates that all of us do our part," he said. "The Taliban are a part of society, and if they take part in economic growth, poverty and joblessness in the country will no doubt diminish."
The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak this year has forced the closure of ground routes to some neighbouring countries and limitations on commercial air transport, restricting grape exports from Herat.
"The ministries of foreign affairs and commerce are speaking with the ambassadors of various countries in Kabul to pave the way for raisin exports to their countries," said Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali.
"Some of the Gulf countries have shown interest in buying Afghanistan's raisins, with Saudi Arabia showing the most interest," he said.
"A first-of-its-kind facility in Herat that processes and packages raisins has started operations in Herat Industrial City," said Abdul Saboor Rahmani, director of the Herat Department of Agriculture. "The facility helps with improving the quality of raisins and has the capacity to process 22 tonnes of raisins per day."
The raisin processing and packaging factory started operations on July 2 with a total investment of $550 million (42.8 billion AFN) from the private sector.
Based on the Herat Department of Agriculture's forecast, more than 140,000 tonnes of grapes will be produced this year in Herat, and most of them will be processed into raisins.
"With the new facility operational, the quality of Herat raisins will improve 100%," Rahmani said. "The raisins we exported previously are very different from the ones processed at this facility and then exported."
"The price of processed raisins will increase," he said. "Every tonne of raisins was priced at $800 (62,000 AFN) previously for export, but now the price of every ton of the processed raisin has risen to $1,300 (101,000 AFN)."