Afghanistan’s finest home-grown fruits and vegetables are in demand across the world. Although some Afghan food processors and traders know how to properly store, sort, grade and package their products before exporting to international markets, many still lack the required knowledge. As a result, the Community-Based Agriculture Rural Development—Access to International Markets (CBARD-AIM) has been assisting businesses to acquire these essential skills, in order to satisfy consumer preferences in higher-end international markets.
In November and December 2020 the CBARD-AIM project facilitated two separate visits of pre-selected agricultural traders from Nangahar and Farah provinces to visit the cities of Samarkand and Tashkent in Uzbekistan in an effort to expose Afghan traders to higher paying markets in neighboring countries. These traders also visited the Pakistani cities of Peshawar, Lahore and Islamabad where they toured supermarket chains, wholesale markets and conducted Business-to-Business (B2B) meetings with potential Pakistan business partners.
Most of these traders currently export bulk shipments of potatoes, tomatoes and onions to Pakistan, and some have even managed shipments of onions to India. However, during their recent visits to Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the traders explored opportunities to export other crops, and consequently, learned about the quality requirements and packaging standards demanded by large buyers and customers in these markets.
"The trade mission was a useful experience. Previously our products were shipped from Kabul to various cities in Pakistan by a third party since we didn't have direct contacts with major buyers," said Sayed Ahmad Noorzai, the owner of Suhrab Sudais Company. "During this visit, we forged links with the very buyers that will allow us to export our future product shipments directly at higher sales prices to them, benefiting both us and the farmers."
Agricultural traders, like the ones who participated in these trade missions, usually purchase crops from farmers in the field, where most post-harvest activities are carried out in a traditional method. This practice does not include proper cleaning, sorting and grading of the produce, and results in a mixture of poor quality and higher quality produce. Ultimately, the overall quality of the shipment is diminished, leading to reduced prices in both domestic and international markets.
CBARD-AIM works with farmers and agricultural processors to produce high-quality fresh and dry fruits and vegetables and instructs them to apply modern processing practices that comply with higher-end market requirements. Quality products that are properly packaged and labeled bring greater returns to businesses who export to high-end regional and international markets.
Supplying better-quality products on a regular basis has increased the sale of CBARD-AIM supported exporters and promoted licit commercial activities in poppy producing regions of Afghanistan. Despite COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, the project helped traders to export 1,872 metric tons of onion, cauliflower, cucumber, pomegranate, dried fruit, nuts, and spices to Pakistan, India, UAE, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan valued at around US$ 5.5 million.
Visiting retail supermarkets and wholesalers in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, Afghan traders learned that if they properly clean, sort, grade, package and label their products before shipping, they can attract higher prices and sell more volume in foreign markets. During the visits, the traders also discussed potential deals, and explored new logistical opportunities for shipping their produce.
"It was a great learning experience and an opportunity to network with Uzbek traders across the border," said Haji Stana Gul, owner of Wasiq Omran Company. "I found out that Uzbek buyers were very interested in the variety of oranges grown in Nangarhar, and I am excited to send my first shipment in the near future."
Three of the export companies, Tasal Jawad, Shirzad Sabawoon Safi and Wasiq Omran, whose representatives participated in trade mission to Uzbekistan plan to export 2,800 metric tons of oranges and 3,600 metric tons of potatoes to Uzbekistan over 2021.