KABUL (Tolo News): As the harvest season for fresh fruit arrives, farmers and exporters say they lack domestic markets and are limited in selling fruit abroad in a cost-effective way.
Security challenges and the influx of imported fruit, especially watermelon from Pakistan, have affected the local market for fruit and have kept the prices low, leaving farmers with no choice but to sell at prices so low they do not cover costs.
One instance, according to farmers, is the watermelon yield in Farah, which faces the same fate every year. Last year, farmers threw their products on the roads as they were left unsold due to lower prices and no storage facilities in the province. The farmers and investors said they fear a similar fate for the watermelon this year, too. When in season, seven kilograms of watermelon is sold for 50 Afs in Kabul markets ($0.60), which farmers say is not enough to cover the expenses on their farms.
One major setback for the fruit exporters has been the pause of the government-subsidized air routes, commonly known as air corridors. The operation of the air corridors was stopped in mid-March. On May 14, officials said the air routes will soon become operational as President Ashraf Ghani has approved a proposal of the Ministry of Finance allocating 168 million Afs (over $2 million) for the project.
“During the watermelon harvest season in Nangarhar, one truck with watermelons is sent to Kabul while at the same time dozens of trucks are sent from Pakistan,” said Mohammad Zahir, a fresh fruit exporter, referring to the impact of imported fresh fruit on local markets. “In provinces where watermelons are grown, such as Farah, the farmers don’t have an association through which they can collect watermelon and send it to the markets,” said Suhrab, a fruit seller in Kabul.
The private sector said that the government needs to remove hurdles in the way of trade and transit of Afghan fruits to other countries. “Our transit problems with neighboring countries have remained unsolved. The problems in imports and exports have not been solved. The air corridor has faced hurdles due to COVID-19,” said Khan Jan Alokozai, the deputy head of the Afghanistan Chambers Federation. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce did not comment on the matter despite requests from TOLOnews.