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Afghanistan: Pomegranate pickers jobless as fruits rot at closed border

Pomegranates are ripening as Afghanistan finds itself engulfed in various crises since the Taliban seized control two months ago. While Afghanistan's pomegranate season is underway, this year thousands of tons of the fruit are at risk of rotting on the trucks, as there are frequent problems at the border with importer Pakistan. If this situation escalates, thousands of farm workers will be unemployed.

Haji Nani Agha, who heads the Fresh Fruits Union in Kandahar, said: "We have 15,000 farm workers in this region who have been laid off because the trade has been paralyzed and the fruit is rotting."

Islamabad has cut sales tax on imported fruits to zero in a bid to boost trade from its neighbor, but it has also tightened controls on ordinary Afghans trying to cross over, fearing illegal entries. This has caused frictions between Pakistani authorities and Afghanistan's new rulers, who have frequently closed the border in protest. Exporters hoping to sell their wares have found themselves stuck for days and even weeks in scorching heat.

For years, the previous Western-backed Afghan governments and international donors tried to convince farmers to give up farming poppies for illegal opium production and instead grow fruit -- such as pomegranates.


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