With more than 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population working in agriculture, one of the main challenges faced by the government of Afghanistan is finding ways for local farmers to break into lucrative new markets. The aromatic melons of Afghanistan are prized throughout the region, and frequently exported to India and Pakistan.
The United Arab Emirates, however, has proven to be a more elusive market. That changed in August 2011, when six metric tons of melons from the district of Spin Boldak in the southern province of Kandahar reached Dubai, marking the first time Afghanistan exported melons to the United Arab Emirates.
Working with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, the USAID Accelerating Sustainable Agriculture Program helped Haji Abdul Samad Hamid, a melon farmer from Spin Boldak, gain a foothold in the new market.
USAID provided proper cartons to ship the melons and trained his staff on harvesting, sorting, grading, and packing procedures. Twenty laborers harvested the melons; eight others sorted, graded, packed, and transported them from the field. USAID also subsidized the air transportation cost for this initial shipment, contracting with a local Afghan airline to fly the melons from Kandahar International Airport to Dubai.
"I have been exporting melons to Pakistan and India for the last 10 years, but this is the first time I have exported melons to Dubai,” said Haji Hamid, who made $4,980 on the initial shipment.
“As a result of these efforts, we will be able to export more melons to Dubai and other international markets.” USAID also identified the buyer in Dubai and linked him with Haji Hamid in Spin Boldak. After initial feedback from the Dubai buyer, Haji Hamid is working with USAID to improve the quality of the next shipments, with an increased focus on better sorting, grading, packing, and branding to meet the stringent requirements of the Dubai market.
The melon shipment marked the latest history-making event in Afghanistan’s agricultural sector. Afghan farmers made their first legal export of apples to India in November 2009, with the support of USAID and the Ministry. USAID is now working with other traders in the south to send their grapes and pomegranates to supermarket shelves of Dubai.