China’s love of pine nuts helps Afghan exporters

KABUL: “I earn up to 1,000 Afghani a day, depending on my work,” said Samsoor, 28, who works for Zmarai Gayanwal Ltd., a pine nut processing and export company in Kabul.

“I love my job and so we really need to export more to China. It’s the only way to increase our income and keep the plant operating,” said Samsoor.

Established in 2015, Zmarai Gayanwal Ltd. now has over 100 people working for the company, said company president Sher Ali Zadran.

“Between 100 to 150 people work here directly in the factory and thousands more work indirectly,” Zadran told Xinhua.

“The factory pays 300 Afghani a day for each worker, besides providing lunch and transportation.” The company exported 650 tons of nuts to China last year and is planning to hit 950 tons in 2022, with between 28,000 and 38,000 U.S. dollars per ton.

While Zadran is happy enough with his income and the progress of his plant, he hopes that more Chinese investors will see the profits to be made and use their money to create more jobs.

Khalil Rashid, managing director of a pine nuts processing and export company, highlighted that the pine-nut trade with China had created jobs for thousands of people in his country, which had been at war for decades.

“Besides people working in the factory, their families also process nuts at home and bring them back to factory after they finish,” Rashid said.

Pine cones are harvested 10 days before they open. The cones are dried in the sun for 20 days and then smashed to release the nuts which are sorted by hand. It takes time
and persistence to extract the nuts from the cones, justifying the high price.

Afghanistan historically exported 10,000 tons of pine nuts to China each year, with others heading to countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. Exports had been disrupted last year, but to China at least, trade more or less resumed at the end of October with the first air shipment of 45 tons.

Thousands of Afghans are now working with more than a dozen nut processing factories. “We are very happy to provide more jobs for people and to make more money, not for us also for our workers,” said Rashid. “More exports will bring more jobs.”

According to aid agencies, more than 22 million Afghans will face severe food shortages in Afghanistan this winter. Without overseas assistance, a humanitarian catastrophe threatens.

“More than 10,000 people work in the pine-nut industry whether on plantations, transportation or processing,” said Shafiqullah Atayee of the Afghanistan Chamber of
Commerce and Investment.

“Creating jobs could be the most effective way to help Afghans out of poverty. China is the main destination for our pine nuts. The country has a huge market for Afghan
products and seems keen to import as much as we can offer them in terms of dried and fresh fruit, carpets and handicrafts,” Atayee said.

Afghan private airline Kam Air has run more than 30 cargo flights taking pine nuts to China since November. “Cargo flights will continue in 2022. Kam Air and exporters are determined to increase Afghanistan’s exports,” said the airline’s Mohammad Nadeam Naqshbandi.

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