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  • Green gold’ rush: Afghanistan’s pistachio crops being plundered by militants, depriving farmers of much-needed money

    Jul 20th, 2016

    Afghanistan takes pride in its world-class pistachios, but with looters harvesting the nuts well before maturity, fears are growing that militants and gangs are depriving the war-battered country of much-needed export income.Pistachios are not ripe for the picking until late July, but raiders rushed the forests earlier this month and, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, illegally harvested up to 40 per cent of the country’s still-green crop.In the northern province of Samangan, the offensive began on July 7 – the second day of Eid, the major celebration marking the end of Ramadan, says acting head of the provincial department of agriculture Rafiullah Roshanzada.They are being collected by the Taliban and armed localsSharafuddin Madjeedi“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.

    Similar scenes are repeated all along the “pistachio belt” that runs from Badakhshan in northeast Afghanistan to Kunduz in the north and Herat in the west.“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.“I can tell you, these pistachios will not be sold because they are raw, not ripe.”If they had waited, Benish adds, the crop could have sold for an estimated 35 million Afghanis (US$525,000).“They are being collected by the Taliban and armed locals,” also laments head of the Badghis governor’s office, Sharafuddin Madjeedi.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.