KHOST -- Pine nut traders in Khost province say they are having trouble selling some 2,500 metric tonnes of the lucrative seeds because of high export costs and a lack of trade partners.
Khost traders used to export pine nuts to China with good revenues until last year, said Noorgul Mangal, president of the Afghanistan Pine Nuts Union.
"We used to export pine nuts to China very easily during the previous government," he said. "The transport cost for exporting 1kg of pine nuts was $3, of which the government used to pay $1.50. The traders would pay the other $1.50."
"But now each trader has to pay $4.50/kg. Because of that [higher transport cost], some have traders started exporting via Pakistan, which costs under $2/kg."
Afghan traders trying to export directly to China have to use planes, while the Afghan-Pakistani-Chinese route uses much cheaper surface transport.
"Afghan traders thought they would export pine nuts again directly to China with lower costs; therefore, they bought pine nuts at a higher price in Afghanistan," he said. "But they were told about the $4.50 export cost later."
"Unfortunately, we do not have Afghan traders in China, while Pakistani traders sell our pine nuts [in China]," Mangal said. "They tell me that they haven't been able to sell all of the pine nuts already in China."
"I think the Pakistani traders care more about their interests and do not try their best to sell the pine nuts," he said.
"Afghan traders will suffer great losses if proper trading relations are not established with different countries and if pine nuts are not exported from Kabul directly," he added.
Lack of support
Hukumran, a pine nut trader in Khost province, said he has almost 13 metric tonnes of pine nuts that he is unable to sell.
"Although pine nut production was higher this year than in previous years, no one supported its export," he said. "Many Afghan pine nuts were smuggled to Pakistan and exported to China as a [supposedly] Pakistani product, while nobody is taking measures to facilitate the export of the remaining pine nuts in Afghanistan."
Awalmir Mutaqi, another trader based in Khost, complained that he exported pine nuts from Afghanistan to China at a high transport cost by air, while pine nuts exported via Pakistan enjoyed lower surface transport costs. Therefore, his pine nuts have yet to be sold in the Chinese markets
"I exported 18 metric tonnes of pine nuts from Kabul to China with an export cost of $4.50/kg," he said. "About 20 days later, Afghan pine nuts were brought to China via Pakistan at a much lower [surface] transport cost, which killed the market for us. Now, I will suffer great losses if I lower my prices there."
The lack of export avenues for Afghans requires a viable solution, say economists.
"Afghanistan should trade directly with the world without a third country intermediary," said Abdul Mubeen Storai, an economist in Kabul.
"It is a bitter reality that some Afghan products are still sold in the world markets under the name of neighbouring countries," he said. "If the issue of pine nut exports is not resolved swiftly and cost-efficiently directly from Kabul ... we will suffer great economic losses very soon."
Lack of proper cold storage
The lack of proper cold storage is another major issue that is yet to be addressed.
Traders say they have moved almost 2.5 metric tonnes of pine nuts from warm provinces to the mountains and other colder areas to prevent spoilage.
Abdul Rahman Afghan, a trader from Paktia province, said he bought 8 metric tonnes of pine nuts from Khost some time ago, but he could not sell them because of the unfavourable market.
A few days after he purchased the pine nuts, "their prices dropped ... and the prices kept going down", he said.
"The weather also got hotter, and I had to transfer them to Paktia, where I keep them now in a cold area."
Hashem is another trader who has transferred a few metric tonnes of pine nuts from hot Khost to his cooler village and has stored them on a mountain.
"Lack of cold storage is a serious issue," said Hashem, another trader who moved his supply of pine nuts to his village in the mountains.
"The traders who still have pine nuts left had to transfer them either to mountainous areas or to cold storage in Kabul and Gardez," he said.
"Cold storage in Kabul and Gardez is not at the level that it should be," he added. "We call on the international aid organisations to help us in this area."