About the Author: Joyce Kim serves with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kabul, Afghanistan.
On December 3, 2010, Afghan farmers and merchants took an important step forward in world trade by exporting Afghanistan's first-ever, 40-foot refrigerated container ("reefer") of pomegranates, destined for buyers in Canada. Subsequent reefer shipments will go to Dubai and Holland through the seaport in Karachi, Pakistan.
Canadians will soon enjoy the juiciest and tastiest pomegranates from Afghanistan. In the past, exporting chilled fresh fruit to distant markets was impossible, because Afghanistan did not have the required cold-chain infrastructure, trade agreements, or skilled merchants. Now, however, the U.S. Government is assisting with the infrastructure and trade policy essentials for Afghan exports of chilled fresh fruit. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is bringing these components together by training farmers to produce higher quality products, and linking them with merchants who have been trained in packaging techniques, and connecting them to new international markets.
USAID, through its Commercial Horticulture and Agriculture Marketing Program (CHAMP), has facilitated the shipment of fresh fruit through Karachi to international markets. In August, CHAMP assisted Afghan merchants with the first-ever reefer shipment of chilled grapes to India by road. Shipments through Pakistan are now an option due to recent changes in Afghanistan-Pakistan trade policy. The chilled fruit was packed in refrigerated houses built with funding from local merchants, and the governments of the United States and India.
The incentives to adopt new practices lie in increased profits. Pomegranate growers receive price increases of 136 percent for their higher-quality fruits. Merchants have seen enough increase in profits that they are continuing to use the new marketing techniques without CHAMP assistance. After testing the market with CHAMP assistance in 2009, merchants shipped 28 reefers of grapes to Karachi. Following the trial to India this year, merchants are planning to continue chilled grape shipments next year.
Afghan farmers, merchants, and government officials are optimistic that this year's marketing trials will yield results that will sustain the expansion of pomegranate, grape, and other fresh fruit exports. USAID and collaborating merchants are planning to test fresh fruit markets in Australia, Ukraine, Germany, and Russia next year.