How the humble pomegranate is helping Afghans to a better way of life

In addition to being founder and chairman of the Asia Scotland Institute I am chairman of the UK Foundation of Plant for Peace. With Christmas and Hogmanay celebrated, as we look forward to what 2017 may hold I would like to share this extraordinary and inspiring story with you.

James Brett, onetime resident of Dumfriesshire, tells the story: “Plant for Peace was started in April 2007 when I ran into a field of opium farmers in Afghanistan with a banner that read ‘Pomegranate is the Answer’ and I talked to an opium farmer who agreed to grow pomegranates with me. We initially planted two million pomegranate saplings that were given to many farmers and we wrote a National Agrarian Horticulture Plan for Afghanistan. The pomegranate is revered by everybody in Afghanistan and this enabled us to hold seven tribal gatherings addressing over 55,000 Elders who all supported the notion of converting from opium to high-value horticulture crops. The pomegranate was the fruit that united us.” Today Plant for Peace – www.plantforpeace.org – has evolved a strategy that aims to utilise most of the high-value crops that Afghanistan produces to create great value-added food products and launch them in as many retailers as possible across the world. In March of this year, it is planned to launch a new range of fruit bars and drinks in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Holland & Barrett in the UK, with retailers in Australia and the USA wishing to sell Plant for Peace as well. Plant for Peace has currently developed four product ranges consisting of fruit bars, raw cocoa coated mulberry, crunchy granola muesli and pomegranate herbal teas, creating 20 product lines.

For every sale of a food product, we plant a tree in Afghanistan. Plant for Peace is a solution to multiple problems and enables the nation to become accepted by the global community by providing the world with something positive instead of negative. It encourages families to remain in rural areas rather than move to cities, building local community strength and reducing the risk of young people being radicalised.

James adds: “Over the years, the Afghan people have been traumatised by years of war and conflict. They have been ostracised and therefore have had to do whatever feeds their families – hence opium production. Today they have the opportunity, to do something positive, by contributing to the international food through the markets that Plant for Peace is creating with the value-added products. The farming community believed in the good of the pomegranate, they have a chance to recover and they will recover.

“The Afghan farmers are so happy if you buy fruit from them, they feel proud of the quality and taste of their produce. They feel they are contributing.

“This affects our whole persona and when you achieve this on a national level it can drive a country to greatness. Plant for Peace is helping the people to feel whole again”.

Plant for Peace has gained international support because it delivers a very practical, impactful simple solution for the many problems facing the people of Afghanistan. Western expertise in supply chain management and logistics ensures that Afghan-sourced produce now reaches developed markets.

It is about the will to effect change, to help people help themselves. Ideally suited to assisting pre and post-conflict countries and communities, Plant for Peace has already been invited by a number of other countries to apply its approach elsewhere.

Growing global support shows that Plant for Peace could become one of the largest social impact carbon offset initiatives in the world, with its success coming from the support of international retailers and all those who buy the Plant for Peace food products. This a great and heartwarming success story, with Afghan farmers now receiving $6000 a hectare compared to $4000 from poppies. With a shortage of opiates for medicinal purposes in the West, one day we may be able to persuade pharmaceutical companies to buy the poppy crop forward. It is only a matter of time and continued hard work by James and his team.

There was very nearly a disappointing twist to this Christmas Tale, with significant and repeated delays in securing funding from the UK Department for International Development. It was going to be a sad situation when compared with recent stories of funds misspent on ill thought-out projects and bridges to nowhere. Now that funding has now been promised. I hope you will feel James Brett’s dream can be realised.