Feature: Afghans crack open opportunity from China-bound pine nut trade

by Abdul Haleem

SHAWAK, Afghanistan, June 22 (Xinhua) -- Once primarily used as a home-heating fuel, pine trees in eastern Afghanistan have become a cash cow for local villagers, with an average annual export of 5,000 tonnes of pine nuts, mostly destined for neighboring China.

An air corridor linking Afghanistan to China was opened in November 2018, with the first flight containing 20 tonnes of pine nuts leaving Kabul for Shanghai. The corridor has offered a lucrative source of income for farmers in Afghanistan's remote mountains.

"Since an agreement was inked with China, our income has increased because we sell the pine nuts at higher prices," said Chin Mohammad, an elderly farmer from Ibrahimkhail village, Shawak district of Paktia province.

Mohammad said six years ago, most pine nut buyers were from other neighboring countries, and they would purchase the pine nuts around their village at a low price and sell them to buyers in a third country.

Gesturing towards a mountain covered with pine nut trees, Mohammad noted that 600 people are now engaged in the pine nut business, collecting valuable seeds during the harvest season.

"Do you see the mountain? Each person in the past earned 2,000 to 3,000 afghanis (about 28 to 43 U.S. dollars), but following the agreement with China, each person earns 800 to 1,000 dollars. It means our revenue (revenue of the whole village) reaches 600,000 to 700,000 dollars, and we can buy cereals, sugar and tea," said Mohammad, the sole breadwinner of an 11-member family.

Echoing similar sentiments, Mina Gul, a 35-year-old farmer, said that exporting pine nuts to China had drastically improved his living conditions.

"No one knew about Afghan pine nuts in the past, but now they are precious nuts, and their value has increased with the huge export to China, which greatly improved our living conditions," he told Xinhua proudly.

"I expect China could provide us with proper equipment to harvest the pine nuts. We need (professional) boots, clothes, helmets and gloves," Gul said, adding that a lack of equipment leads to spoilage and damage to pine trees from worms.

Gul Rahman, a manager of a pine nuts processing factory based in Pakitia's provincial capital of Gardez, said China remains their main market target for years.

Profitable export business has also allowed them to employ more locals, attracting more impoverished families to engage in the pine nut business, he said.

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