Afghanistan’s Juicy Solution to Drug Trade

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of the illegal drugs opium and heroin (International Narcotics Control Board), both of which are derived from the bright-red flower, the poppy (

The country produced 8,200 tons of heroin in 2007, up 34 percent from the previous year.

The negative consequences of the flourishing drug trade are numerous: it is destabilizing Afghanistan’s neighbours and undermining political and legal institutions, addiction rates are soaring, and addicts are spreading HIV/AIDS.

All of this gives Afghanistan’s farmers a bad image. But that could change with the launch of a new brand for Afghanistan: “Anar, Afghan Pomegranate.” It is hoped this sweet fruit will lure farmers away from the illegal trade and boost the country’s image at the same time. The red fruit that contains hundreds of seeds (, is a local delicacy and has a regional reputation for excellence. It is hoped the pomegranate fruit trees will draw farmers away from the market for the red poppy flower.

By launching the product with its own logo and brand, producers hope the Afghani pomegranate will be able to benefit from a wave of interest in Western markets in the antioxidant qualities of the fruit ( Boxes of the fruit come clearly stamped with the logo, a sliced fruit with seeds spilling out, and the brand name.

A sophisticated branding and marketing campaign can make all the difference when a Southern country is exporting its products to wealthier nations.

Rather than having the product disappear amongst the plethora of products on a market stall or in the supermarket, clear and sophisticated branding quickly fixes a reputation with customers and significantly increases return purchases.

As consultants KPMG make clear, “For many businesses, the strength of their brands is a key driver of profitability and cash flow.”

Yet many small businesses fail to think about their brand values or how design will improve their product or service.

The Afghani pomegranate had been enjoying export success since 2007, when it became a big a hit with supermarket shoppers in Dubai. The French supermarket chain Carrefour expanded its order to all its Middle Eastern stores. It is hoped the branding will grow and secure these export markets.

There are more than 48 kinds of Afghani pomegranates. The highly prized Kandari pomegranate – named after its home province in the south of the country – is so popular in India, it will be branded “Kandari Pomegranate.”

Afghan Agriculture Minister Mohammad Asif Rahimi told a Kabul launch ceremony last November that Afghan pomegranates are the best in the world. “It’s sweet; it’s juicy,” he said.

The launch was an apt reflection of the risks of doing business in Afghanistan: it had extensive security and bomb-sniffing dogs.

For Afghani farmers, the pomegranate offers the attraction of more profit than growing poppies: farmers can make US$2,000 per acre, compared to US$1,320 for poppies.

While the financial incentive is there, there are many obstacles to making this alternative market a success. The country is a war zone in many places, and exporting through the road network can be perilous, with frequent attacks. Things became so bad last year, a shipment of the pomegranates had to be sent by US military aircraft.

Taking on the lucrative drug trade and its highly sophisticated global networks is not easy. Drug traffickers provide farmers with credit, advance payments, long-term contracts, technical advice and many other benefits farmers do not receive for growing legal crops.

It is hoped the fruit will be more than just a success on its own, and that it will boost the brand of Afghanistan as a nation as well.

“Afghanistan has a mixed-brand heritage,” said Loren Stoddard, USAID’s head of alternative development and agriculture.

Stoddard said the country is hoping to break with its image of war and extremism, and play to its exotic image in the Western mind. The Afghani pomegranate industry is receiving US$12 million from donors to modernize and expand.

Using design to profit from overseas markets has many advantages. But according to Monique Thoonen, managing director of Dutch Design in Development – an NGO experienced in helping Southern entrepreneurs break overseas markets – getting the steps right is critical.

“If you want to focus on a wider market you have to convince buyers that you understand what is wanted in all fields: design, product development, good presentation at a (trade) fair,” she said. “And if you have convinced the buyer, then you must make sure that your organization is organized in such way that you can make promises come true.

“Designing good products is one thing, but during product development also a good and effective production process has to be taken in account. Making the process too complex will result in high price setting, long lead times and maybe even poor quality. Besides, also the transportation of goods must be taken in consideration, bulky goods are very expensive, goods should be easy to pack and not easily break during transport. Goods must be able to resist high humidity and temperatures during transport.”

The Netherlands is well known as a global centre for high-quality product design. Dutch Design in Development works with importers, retailers, NGOs and foundations, matching them with a Dutch designer to develop their product and then provide them with advice on the Dutch and European markets.


  • Dutch Design in Development: Dutch designers are able to offer free support to new and small businesses in developing countries looking to export products to Europe. Website:
  • Small businesses looking to develop their brand can find plenty of free advice and resources here: Website:
  • Brandchannel: The world’s only online exchange about branding, packed with resources, debates and contacts to help businesses intelligently build their brand Website:
  • A report on Afghanistan’s heroin drug trade.Website:
  • Food Safety – From the Farm to the Fork is the European Commission’s guidelines on food safety and how to prepare food for import into the European Community. Website: index_en.htm
  • EMN Europe is a company that organizes all logistics for importing goods into Europe, including making sure all legal requirements are met. Website:
  • Just Food is a web portal packed with the latest news on the global food industry and packed with events and special briefings to fill entrepreneurs in on the difficult issues and constantly shifting market demands. Website:

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