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News | June 25, 2012

How sweet it is

By Capt. Jeff Hickman , 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (Hawaii)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (June 26, 2012) — Farmers from Spin Boldak attended a shura on June 18, 2012, at the District Police Center to discuss ways to better harvest, pack, market and export the area’s famous sweet melon crop. This was the first of many events planned that will link farmers and traders.

“The overall air of the shura demonstrated a commitment to economic gain through cooperative engagement and partnership not only with the US government, but with their fellow farmers,” stated Steve Tavella, field program officer, United States Agency for International Development. “Despite the challenges that come with any attempt in this environment to change old patterns of behavior, develop new relationships and create new systems… 
Discussions at the shura focused on building trade relationships beyond the traditional decades-long Pakistan market, finding new sources of credit and collective problem-solving to enhance wholesale collection of their melon crop during harvest.”

With the harvest coming up in about a month, the meeting allowed farmers to exchange ideas, in the context of a cooperative, which will ultimately benefit them as a group for the future.

“With a newly formed farm cooperative operating in the Robat area, there is much more potential for economic gain among a broader swath of farmers than ever before,” Tavella said. 

The co-op will also receive help from USAID to construct a small structure to house a packing facility. The funding for the building may come from the Community Horticultural and Marketing Program, but the revenue has not been finalized. Direct input from the farmers at the shura provided recommended dimensions and designs of the building that will meet their standards in regards to a truck loading zone and shading for the fruit. 

“This is an important year for the establishment of trade relationships beyond Pakistan that promise new and lasting economic gains for these farmers,” said Tavella. “Last year USAID assisted several farmers in exporting 21 metric tons of sweet melons to the United Arab Emirates. That program demonstrated that there is a demand for their product beyond the traditional Pakistan market.” 

The take-aways and ideas shared at the shura provide an excellent starting point for the co-op, further bolstering the Spin Boldak sweet melon export strategy. Countries such as India, United Arab Emirates and even Europe were mentioned as export targets. 

Future projects for this co-op include two training programs: pest management and the second on sorting, grading and packing for market. The co-op will be getting assistance in acquiring the appropriate packaging and labeling for export, something they were lacking last season. There is still a lot of coordination that needs to be done to update and improve the existing processes, but the future is sweet for the farmers in Spin Boldak. 

“As this traditionally disenfranchised tribal area emerges from conflict and tastes the economic benefits of trading with a higher value market,” said Tavella. “It runs parallel that increased stability can follow for the greater Robat-Shadizi area of Spin Boldak.”