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News | Feb. 26, 2013

Uruzgan farmers learn to turn almonds into money

By ,

TARIN KOT, Afghanistan — In a country where farming is a means of survival, farmers here in the province of Uruzgan have taken significant steps to commercialize agriculture.

Almond farmers in the province have recently learned skills and received tools to help them be more successful by taking control of production and grow profits.

Sadar Muhammad, of the provincial Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL), partnered with U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) employee Bob Mullen, from Provincial Reconstruction Team Uruzgan, Feb. 7, 2013, to distribute nutcrackers, tree sprayers, and protective suits to several groups in the province.

The idea behind the aid is to help the farmers to gain independence from outside sources, or middle men. With the current system, farmers have to outsource their crops to other parties for shelling and packaging, therefore losing part of their profit.

“The intent was that the associations would go ahead and process their almonds, get them out of the shell, and put them in the bags,” Mullen said. “That will increase the dollar value of their almonds by 100 to 200 percent.”

In order for the almonds to be processed and put into bags, the nuts must first be shelled. Almonds come in several varieties, and most are categorized by the force needed to open them. Almonds opened by hand or mouth are easier to sell, and therefore bring more profit. Presently, farmers are opening the hardest variant by smashing them with rocks.

“The almonds that you open with the rocks are the cheapest to buy because obviously it’s hard to open them up, but if you can start processing those you can increase that dollar value,” Mullen said. “That’s when we brought in the infamous nutcracker.”

Mullen had a friend mail a nutcracker from the U.S., and while working with DAIL, found a carpenter in Tarin Kot who could build his own version of the machine, referred to by the Afghans as a “badam matawonkey.”

“Originally the carpenter was supposed to build 30 of these nutcrackers and divide them between associations that were already developed,” Mullen said. “But it is the DAIL’s intention that they’re going to go directly to the Department of Women’s Affairs.”

After the almonds have been shelled and packaged, an Afghan-run program called CHAMPS, or Commercial Horizontal Agriculture Marketing Program, is taking 80 bags of almonds to an agricultural food expedition in Dubai at the end of February. The intent is to open up a better trade route for the Uruzgan almonds.

“Previously they didn’t understand the market,” Mullen said. “I’ve actually gone out with them to show them what shelled almonds can bring versus the ones still in the shell. Russia will buy all the almonds that we can produce that are medium size and contain less than 1 percent bitter almond.”

Many of the almond trees in Uruzgan yield a bitter almond, and because of the harvest practices of farmers, those almonds get mixed with the marketable almonds. Mullen says there will need to be more focus on teaching the farmers proper post harvest production, but the DAIL has already seen improvements in the farming and merchandising methods implemented by the locals.

“We are hopeful because the stability of our province has improved,” Muhammad said. “That will facilitate us to extend our program through the district and in to other countries.”