Afghan mint - cleansing body and soul
Afghanistan is the primary producer of opium in the world. But Gul Agha, once a poppy grower, is now earning a legitimate income by growing mint. Since May 2006, when a production plant was installed in his area, Agha has produced and sold more than 1000 bottles of herbal mint water to a regular pool of customers, including shopkeepers, doctors and more than one government hospital. Scaling up his mint cultivation is now the top priority for this former poppy grower from Afghanistan's notorious Helmand province.
Mint is used worldwide as a remedy for various digestion-related health problems. In Afghanistan, it is widely used in cooking but its medicinal value is not well known. But in the absence of an extensive health care system, local communities depend heavily on alternative therapies, which has created an opportunity for mint, as a locally available and effective herbal remedy. For farmers, the crop also has excellent income potential.
An extra strong product
Production of mint water as a standardised and well-packaged medicinal product has been co-ordinated by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), as part of a programme to develop and promote innovative alternative livelihood options for rural Afghans. The ICARDA team has been working with farmers to develop and evaluate simple technologies for producing clean, marketable mint water. In March 2006, a production and training centre was opened at the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture's Badam Bagh Research Station in Kabul. Trainees at the centre have included farmers, ministry and NGO staff, extension workers, members of women's organisations and agriculture graduates.
The project is focussing on three target provinces, Helmand, Kunduz, and Nangarhar. Each of these now has a Mint Producers' Association (MPA), which the project has provided with production equipment and training in production, packaging, and marketing. Trilingual (Dari, Pashto, and English) labels and posters have also been produced, and already, significant awareness of the medicinal uses of mint has been created. Women are being employed as technicians at the production plants in Helmand and Nangarhar, and more than 1000 women have been trained on how to produce mint water at the domestic level. In addition, the project has proved that dry mint can be a successful alternative source of income, especially for women, some of whom are making a 250 percent profit from selling the crop.
Acquiring a taste for mint
Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Health has approved the production of mint water using the technology introduced by the project. All three MPAs are currently producing and marketing mint water in their respective provinces. Marketing data from Kabul, Helmand, and Kunduz show that producers can make as much as 133 percent in profit from sales of mint water at the local market.
Given Afghanistan's unpredictable security situation, which can easily upset export arrangements, finding a strong domestic market is essential when choosing crops as an alternative to opium. So far the production of mint water is showing exciting potential, with several private entrepreneurs and development agencies approaching ICARDA for assistance in establishing similar facilities in other provinces.
Date published: January 2007
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The project is part of the Research on Alternative Livelihoods Fund (RALF), a three-year research programme funded by DFID, and implemented by 25 national and international organisations in Afghanistan.
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