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Homeland Security

AFGHANISTAN: More than an olive branch

JALALABAD, 25 October 2009 (IRIN) - A major opium producer just a few years ago, Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar is now believed to be opium free, amid signs the once flourishing olive business is undergoing a revival.

Nangarhar is set to harvest about 400 tons of olives this year. “This year’s olive production is unprecedented in over a decade,” Engineer Hakim, head of Nangarhar's government-run olive sector, told IRIN.

Before the onset of war in 1979, Nangarhar had about 3,000 hectares of olive trees and produced about 5,000 tons of pickled and raw olives and olive oil a year. At least 1,000 workers were employed in the industry in the 1980s, officials said.

However, over the past three decades most groves were destroyed. Currently olive trees cover less than 1,800 hectares and about 75 workers are employed in the industry, according to local agriculture officials.

Recently, the industry had received help from the government of Italy and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), officials said.

In 2003-2004 Nangarhar was ranked the second top opium-producing province in Afghanistan by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). However, poppy cultivation has dropped significantly over the past four years and in 2008 the province was declared poppy-free in a UNODC assessment report.

Replacement therapy

Provincial officials said the rehabilitation of olive groves would not only help develop the local economy but could also replace some of the income lost from poppy cultivation.

“If the government and donors promote olive production in Nangarhar through investment and support projects, farmers will have few incentives to cultivate poppy,” Baryalai Wyarh, a provincial counter-narcotics official, told IRIN.

Existing olive farms are government-owned, and employ local people, but things could change: “Farmers are interested in having their own olive farms,” said Hakim.

Nangarhar has an old Russian-equipped factory for making olive oil and pickled olives which, officials say, could be upgraded and employ hundreds of people.

The olive industry needed help with marketing its products both at home and abroad, Hakim said.

Agriculture experts say Nangarhar’s sub-tropical climate is ideal for olive production.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Governance

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