KABUL, Afghanistan— One of Afghanistan's greatest economic strengths lies in its ever-growing agriculture sector.
For three days last October, nearly 35,000 international and Afghan visitors streamed into the Kabul International AgFair 2010, providing a strong indication that the world is ready for Afghanistan's cashmere, nuts, and fresh and dried fruit.
The event, sponsored by USAID, also attracted heavy hitters like Asif Rahimi, minister of agriculture, irrigation, and livestock; and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who shared opening ceremony duties.
"You have come at the perfect time," Rahimi told the audience. "Global demand for Afghan products is big and grows larger every day."
All told, the AgFair would go on to generate almost $2 million in business deals and more than $6 million in potential deals over three days. More than 40 business representatives from Argentina, Australia, China, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Singapore, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated in the event, all looking to make deals with Afghans.
The AgFair featured 136 Afghan and 40 international vendor booths showcasing the country's crown jewels of agriculture: pomegranates, nuts, cashmere, grapes, dried fruits, and other high-value crops, as well as a range of agricultural services such as processing and production, textiles, livestock, renewable energy, transportation and logistics, packaging and printing, banking and finance, and leather goods.
These fairs help participants forge new business relationships in Afghanistan's growing agricultural sector and bring together hundreds of producers, buyers, packagers, cold storage technology companies, equipment vendors, international representatives, and government agencies to build stronger business linkages and partnerships.
Sponsoring AgFairs is just a part of USAID's $1 billion portfolio of agriculture projects that focus on creating jobs and increasing both incomes and Afghans' confidence in their government. The projects improve productivity, regenerate agribusiness, strengthen key value chains, rehabilitate key watersheds and irrigation infrastructure, and strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to deliver services effectively.
For example, Afghanistan is the world's third largest cashmere producer and has the potential to dramatically increase its production of the valuable commodity. Only 30 percent of the cashmere that goats produce is harvested every year, primarily because farmers are not aware of the value of the cashmere. In 2010, USAID launched an awareness campaign to train more than 200,000 goat herders on the value of cashmere.
In another USAID-funded project, laborers in the Arghandab District of Kandahar planted 814,000 pomegranate, apricot, plum, and grape saplings to rehabilitate more than 6,000 hectares of orchards damaged as a result of a drought. Even with an uncertain security situation, strong output in agriculture was driven by increased donor spending and recovery from the severe drought of 2008-2009. As a result of those efforts, last year's harvest led to agricultural output growth of 36 percent.
To ensure that this season's harvest was exceptionally abundant, USAID provided farmers with agricultural knowledge to produce exceptional crop yields. The Agency's efforts resulted in more than $22 million in increased sales and $11 million in increased exports of Afghan agricultural products. The Agency also helped to create a network of 300 AgDepot farms stores across the country, which have generated almost $6 million in gross sales.
This AgFair marked the first time that security for all three days was managed and provided by the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and National Directorate of Security—a sign that Afghan forces are more ready than they have been in the past to provide security for large public and commercial events.
The event also included seminars where participants could learn about the latest agricultural technologies and methods. And the event made room for fun as well while Afghan families enjoyed restaurants, playground activities, dancing, music, and live wool and carpet weaving demonstrations.
Since 2007, USAID has spon- sored 11 international AgFairs in Afghanistan—six in Kabul—in partnership with the minister of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, and other partners to build awareness of Afghanistan's agricultural sector. Today, the fairs are recognized as one of the most important routes for introducing the world to Afghan goods and in turn attracting much needed investment in the country's agriculture sector.
Afghanistan's AgFairs also serve as an opportunity to exchange ideas on how to improve agricultural production and agribusiness in Afghanistan and to demonstrate improved technologies and products.
"Afghanistan's progress in the agriculture sector is helping lead this proud nation along the pathway to development and self-sufficiency by helping feed the Afghan people, opening markets, and stimulating economic growth and investment opportunities," Eikenberry said.
As he shared childhood memories of Afghan raisins sold at U.S. supermarkets, Eikenberry lauded the country's agricultural comeback and said that the United States was proud to play a supporting role.
Last updated: July 28, 2016