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Afghanistan: 40% of pistachios illegally harvested

Staff Writer |
Pistachios are ready for picking in late July in Afghanistan, but fears are growing that the Taliban and local strongmen are depriving the country of much-needed export income.

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According to the Ministry of Agriculture, raiders have illegally harvested up to 40 percent of the country's still-green crop.

In the northern province of Samangan, the offensive began on July 7, says acting head of the provincial department of agriculture Rafiullah Roshanzada.

"Between 100 and 150 residents of the province stormed the pistachio forests in Hazrat Sultan and Koh Gogird," he says, naming two districts in the province.

Security forces rushed to the scene and arrested many of them, he says, but the damage was done.

"The problem is that they were collected before ripe... the harvest has decreased," he adds, citing figures that show provincial yield could be nearly halved in 2016 compared with last year.

"Government forces have no authority over the pistachio forests in Badghis province, because they lie in Taliban-controlled areas," says Hafizullah Benish, agriculture director in the western province.

The Taliban and local strongmen collected the crops from the roughly 27,000 hectares of land too early, he reports.

If they had waited, Benish adds, the crop could have sold for an estimated 35-million Afghanis (R7,2m).

To stop the bleeding, the government has for the past several years banned access to the pistachio forests near harvest time in 11 provinces, says Mohammad Aman Amanyar, the forest supervisor for the Agriculture Ministry.

For the past dozen years, efforts to green the country saw 9,700 hectares of pistachio replanted, says Amanyar.

Exports of the popular crop ranged from 500 to 1,500 tons of shelled nuts over the same time period.

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