Economy

Kunduz farmers choose watermelon over poppies, see higher profits this year

By Muhammad Qasem

Farmers in Kunduz province are pleased with the watermelon harvest this year and are seeing the benefits of switching from growing illicit drugs to cultivating the lucrative fruit. [Karim Dashti]

KUNDUZ -- Farmers in Kunduz province are pleased with the watermelon harvest this year and are seeing the benefits of switching from growing illicit drugs to cultivating the lucrative fruit.

"We were cultivating hashish and poppy in previous years. Our income was getting worse," said Ghulam Sayed, 56, a farmer in Dasht-i-Archi district.

"This year we decided to plant watermelons. We are very pleased with the result because it ... brings us a decent income," he said.

Sayed said he switched to growing watermelons after he realised the harmful risks associated with growing illicit crops.

A street vendor stands next to his watermelons July 2 in Kunduz city. [Karim Dashti]

A street vendor stands next to his watermelons July 2 in Kunduz city. [Karim Dashti]

"We do not want to be dependent on terrorist networks and drug traffickers to buy our poppies," he said. "When we were growing poppy, we were very concerned that the government might come and eradicate our fields."

"I call on all other farmers to cultivate melons and watermelons," Sayed said. "Growing poppy does not benefit farmers, but it brings great profits to the drug smugglers. Planting watermelon will keep us away from drug traffickers, and it will help us make a legitimate profit."

Abdul Basit Nawabadi, a farmer in Chahar Dara district, also stopped growing poppies and instead planted watermelons.

"I grew poppy for the past two consecutive years," he said. "However, I have turned to growing halal crops this year."

"I bring two loaded trucks of watermelons from my field and sell them at a good price every day in the fruit market in Kunduz city," he said. "My earnings meet my family's needs."

"Planting watermelon is more profitable for farmers than cultivating a haram crop," he said. "It is clear that cultivating a halal crop like watermelon has improved our economic situation."

Improved crops

Farmers are able to sell their watermelons in local markets at a higher price because this year's harvest was not affected by any disease, which means the quality of the fruit is higher.

Mohammad Nazir, 63, a farmer in Kunduz city, who has been cultivating watermelon on 13 jeribs (6.42 acres) of land, said that he has been satisfied with this year's prices and has seen bigger yields.

"Seven kilogrammes of watermelon fetched 20 AFN [$0.23] in the market last year; however, it is now 100 AFN [$1.14]," he said.

"The quality of watermelon is excellent, and there are far fewer waste or worm-eaten fruits this year," Nazir said, adding that last year the harvest was not as good, which drove down the price.

"When farmers brought watermelons to the market in past years, they could not earn enough to even cover the transportation costs, but they are very pleased and satisfied this year," he said.

Khanzad Gul, 44, a farmer from Chahar Dara district, said that because of the good harvest this year, he was able to sell his produce at a higher price and recoup his financial losses from last year.

"I thank Almighty Allah that the climate was favourable this year," he said. "I utilised all my 5 jeribs [2.47 acres] of land and cultivated watermelons. I am very pleased with the outcome of my harvest."

Abdul Ghafar Sediqi, acting provincial director of the Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock Department in Kunduz, attributed the increase in watermelon yields to the introduction of new cultivation technique and to the familiarisation of farmers with standard agricultural methods, as well as to their access to improved seeds.

"Farmers have grown watermelon on fewer than 4,000 hectares of irrigated lands in the centre and districts of the province this year," with an expected harvest of about 100,000 metric tonnes of watermelon, he said.

"Thank Almighty Allah, farmers harvested many more watermelons this year and they seem to be very pleased," he said.

"We are exploring markets across Afghanistan in other provinces so that farmers can sell their produce," he added.

Halal profits

The market for all kinds of fruits, especially watermelon, is very good and farmers are content with their sales, said Wahidullah Afzali, a fruit seller in Kunduz city.

"I see many farmers can sell their agricultural produce with a smile on their face," he said. "It seems they harvested much more than in previous years."

"We demand that all Kunduz farmers grow watermelon instead of poppy so that they earn halal income and strengthen their household economy and country," Afzali said.

Fazel Mohammad Nooryan, a fruit trader in Kunduz, also has seen an improvement in this year's harvest.

"I am transporting four trucks full of watermelon from Kunduz to other provinces every day," he said. "The yields and price of watermelon are very good this year."

"Cultivating and consuming opium poppy destroy society," Nooryan said. "Moreover, we will not be able to raise productive children in society by using the haram income from poppy."

"Many farmers used to cultivate poppy in Kunduz province in the past years, but they listened to our call this year and welcomed it by growing watermelons instead," he said.

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7 Comment

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In our country, the fruits have always given good yield, but the market is very bad and in reality, the farmers are disappointed. There was an air corridor during the presidency of former President Ashraf Ghani, through which Afghanistan could export its fruits to European countries, India, China, and other countries. With Taliban's takeover of power, the air corridors are now closed and the fruits are due to decay inside the country.

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Cultivation of poppy is a non-Afghan phenomenon and Afghan farmers were not familiar with its cultivation in the past and were calling it Haram. The cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan became common during the civil war by Pakistan and other countries that benefit from its trafficking. Even now the Afghan farmers cultivate poppies against their will because there is no market for selling other items and also other products’ prices are very low in the market. Neighboring countries and especially Pakistan and Iran also impel our farmers to cultivate poppies. Every year during the fruit season, Pakistan closes its borders in front of those trucks that deliver Afghanistan’s agricultural crops to Pakistan and India, and due to the heat and waiting in the ports, Afghan crops perish, which causes huge financial losses to the poor farmers. Doing this, on the one hand, Pakistan prevents the economic and agricultural self-sufficiency of Afghans, and on the other hand, it forces the farmers to cultivate poppies for the generals of the Pakistani army are involved in opium and drug trafficking and are benefiting from them.

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Despite that, Afghanistan has the best climate which is good for growing agricultural products, has plenty of water, and its land is also amazingly fertile, but still it couldn’t achieve self-sufficiency in the agricultural aspect due to the 4 decades of devastating war. If there was no war or conflict in the country, Afghanistan wouldn’t only have been self-sufficient in terms of agriculture, but it could also export its crops. May God make peace and Afghanistan stable so our farmers would be able to cultivate without any security concerns and sell their crops, and the government instead of spending money on war could invest in the mechanizing and modernizing of various sectors including agriculture. I am sure that if Afghanistan is left alone for just one decade and the neighboring countries and major world powers don’t intervene in it, Afghanistan would develop without relying on foreign aid and would be one of the most stable economies in the world.

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This news gives me hope in this difficult situation and makes me happy. I get disappointed when I see that many Afghans can’t afford purchasing fruits. It also makes me sad when I see that the farmers are compelled to sell their whole year’s products at a very low price in the market. When the farmers are compelled to sell their products at a very low price, it is not beneficial even if the crops are increased. I have even heard that some of the farmers in different parts of the country have been forced to give their corps to the people for free for the fear of getting rotten, or due to the lack of customers, they have also been forced to sell their products at a loss. The increases in crops can’t change a farmer’s life and the situation in the country until the overall economic situation of the people improves and until the government starts supporting the farmers and the people also start using their agricultural products.

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Indeed, fruits in our country always give good harvests, but the market is very low, and the farmers are sad. The authorities should try to find a suitable market for the fruits in view of the farmers' strenuous efforts. For example, during the time of former President Ashraf Ghani, there were air corridors through which Afghanistan's fruits were exported to European countries, India, and China. Still, with the arrival of the Emirate, the air corridors are inactive, and the fruit is wasted inside the country.

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It is good news to see the farmers of Kunduz preferred cultivating watermelons on poppies and got good harvests. Everyone knows how harmful the poppy harvest is, but they still grow it because when the fruits of Afghan farmers arrive, the neighbors, especially Pakistan, which is the best and cheapest market for Afghan fruits, close their borders. And Afghan farmers' efforts are wasted there. This harms the farmer and makes the Afghan economy suffer a lot. Afghans have an alternative for this. Many energy drinks come to Afghanistan from abroad, and the youth use them instead of fruits. If instead of the same energy drinks (Ginseng, Red Bull, Monster, Hit, Carabao...), people start using the fruits of their country (watermelon, melon, grapes, pomegranates, peach, apricot, palm...) not only It will benefit the economy of your country, but their health will also be good. A farmer's food will not go to waste, and we will not have such a significant export of fruits to other countries. Of course, exporting fruits and other stuff is essential for a country. Still, Pakistan has deliberately closed its borders with Afghanistan, and the reason is that Punjabis want Afghanistan's agriculture, livestock, and factories. ... it discourages farmers and investors from other sectors who have made investments. But young people have heard/seen through advertisements that energy drinks improve their physical and mental condition by increasing energy. Still, scientific research findings have shown

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Considering that most people in the country are engaged in agriculture and agriculture is the only source of income, this is the best news for me. In addition, it is hoped that the government officials will provide these farmers with the necessary facilities to find a market and reach the market for their goods. Citizens should also buy their farmers' products instead of imported fruits and harmful energy drinks, which will prevent the transfer of our money and capital abroad; on the other hand, positive changes can occur in the economic condition of the farmers in the country. Thanks a lot.

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