Pomegranate pickers in Afghanistan are out of work as the fruits rot along the closed border.
The festive pomegranate season in Afghanistan has arrived, but hundreds of tonnes of the delicious red fruit are at risk of rotting on trucks stuck at Pakistan’s frequently closed border, putting thousands of farm laborers out of work.
Pomegranates are known for their health advantages and are one of the most significant crops in the country’s south, with their acidic and crunchy ruby-red seeds sealed inside a leathery red rind.
The fruit is ripening, however, as Afghanistan is immersed in a slew of crises that have spread since the Taliban took control two months ago.
“We have 15,000 farm workers in this region who have been laid off because the trade has been paralyzed and the fruit is decaying,” said Haji Nani Agha, the leader of Kandahar’s Fresh Fruits Union.
The melon-sized fruits fill burlap sacks and boxes being placed onto trucks set to proceed towards the Spin Boldak border with Pakistan in the shadow of pomegranate trees.
However, their journey comes to an end there.
In an effort to encourage trade with its neighbor, Islamabad has reduced sales taxes on imported fruits to zero, but has also strengthened controls on ordinary Afghans attempting to enter the border, fearing unlawful entry.
It has sparked a power struggle between Pakistani officials and Afghanistan’s new rulers, who have regularly shut down the border in protest.
Exporters eager to sell their items have been detained in the sweltering heat for days, if not weeks.
“It’s a disaster for everyone of Afghanistan,” Agha said, “since all of Afghan trade passes through this border.”
Every year, between 40,000 and 50,000 tonnes of wheat are sold to Pakistan, as well as to India and the Gulf regions.
However, according to Abdul Baqi Beena of the Kandahar Chamber of Commerce, only 4,490 tonnes have left the country so far.
“These things are waiting to be sold,” he explained, “but the longer they wait, the worse their quality deteriorates and the lower their market value becomes.”
Drought and fierce warfare in a number of areas had already wreaked havoc on Afghanistan’s agriculture sector prior to the sudden power transition.
Previous Western-backed Afghan governments and international donors worked for years to persuade farmers to switch from growing poppies for illegal opium production to growing fruit, such as pomegranates.