When one is asked about Afghanistan’s few marketable exports, the country’s opium poppy fields will be the first thing to come to mind. However, with the beginning of picking season already upon us, its another of Afghanistan’s precious natural commodities which are creating chaos.
Looters are descending on Afghanistan’s pistachio farms, harvesting the unripe nuts far too early and damaging the export income of the country as whole.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, illegal looters have already stolen as much as 40% of the national crop in what is being dubbed the ‘Green Gold Rush’.
Head of the Department of Agriculture for Samangan, Rafiullah Roshanzada claims that the problem began on 7th July, the second day of Eid, when: “100 to 150 people rushed into the pistachio forest districts Hazrt Sultan and Koh Gogird”.
Mr Roshanzada explains that “people were arrested, but most of them picked pistachios that were not ripe, meaning that already the harvest will be down”.
Similar scenes have been unfolding in the Afghanistan pistachio war throughout the country’s ‘pistachio belt’ that extends from Badakhshan in northeast Afghanistan to the Herat region tp the West, bordering Iran.
Hafizullah Benish, Director of the Agriculture Department says: “We have 27 to 30,000 hectares of Pistachio in Badghis province but it is the Taliban, not government forces who control these areas.”
Mr Benish complains, saying: “I can tell you, these pistachios will not be sold because they are raw, not ripe,” before adding “if they had waited the crop could have sold for an estimated 35 million Afghanis” ($525,000).
Exports of pistachios from Afghanistan were valued at being worth $4.2 million in 2014, which is a fraction of the $160 million which, according to the UN, is generated every year by opium production.