Focused Engagement is the key to Success in Afghanistan

OP-ED

Heidi Kuhn, Founder/CEO Roots of Peace

Focused Engagement is the key to Success in Afghanistan

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Roots of Peace first arrived in Afghanistan in 2003, the Taliban had burned lush vineyards, and had laid landmines to crush the spirit of Afghan farmers.  Afghanistan’s grapes, raisins, pomegranates, nuts and spices had long been known throughout the world for their taste and quality. With the country 80% dependent upon agribusiness, we set out to help it again become an exporter.  It’s been a long journey.

Over the years Roots of Peace has worked on many projects, with various partners and funders including USAID, USDA, DOD, EU, ADB, GTZ, The World Bank, UNMAS, and the HALO Trust.  What’s been crucial to our success has been a clear vision to ensure that each project connected to the next.

Our Mines to Vines initiative began with a vision of transforming minefields into thriving vineyards and orchards.  First, we cleared the land to make it safe, then identified marketable crops that could eventually be sold in the region. We planted new vines and 5 million fruit trees, in all 34 provinces. We helped the farmers get the most out of their crops by introducing new fertilizers and growing methods.  We installed cold rooms and other storage facilities, drying rooms to make high quality raisins and apricots and taught farmers how to dry  pack their crops. Now we are able to literally reap what we have sown.

This year, Afghan businesses signed more than $276 million in contracts selling the country’s high-quality fruits, spices, nuts and vegetables, with support of our USAID Commercial Horticulture & Agricultural Marketing Program (CHAMP), implemented by Roots of Peace. Afghan products are in Indian supermarkets and being sold in the United Arab Emirates and the newest market, Kazakhstan. The program helps Afghan businessmen promote and sell products throughout the region.

In its time in Afghanistan, Roots of Peace has so far managed over $180 million in contracts, contributing 2% to the country’s GDP, according to President Ashraf Ghani. Our CHAMP Program employs 150 Afghans directly and tens of thousands of farmers currently benefit from our programs.

It hasn’t all been easy. In 2014, the Taliban attacked our Kabul office. There have been other setbacks and challenges, but anyone who works in Afghanistan understands the resilience of the Afghan people.

Our continued success is because we understand Afghanistan’s tremendous human capital, and we have always worked toward self-reliance.

Foreign ministers, the UN, donors to Afghanistan and the Afghan government meet in Geneva this week to discuss development, peace and progress so far. We hope there will be continued commitment to Afghanistan and that governments and organizations will take a comprehensive long-term view of why ensuring this country succeeds is crucial to the rest of the world.

On September 11th2001, we all learned what happens when we allow states to flounder and fail. The attacks on New York and Washington were devastating. Since that terrible day, many good things have happened. Afghanistan is on the long road to becoming fiscally independent, able to stand on its own in the world. Millions of former Afghan refugees have returned to the country. Girls are in school, women are in the workplace, business and investment are growing.

The country still has many problems. Afghanistan is enduring its worst drought in recent memory, the Taliban are fighting around the country, the NATO secretary General says ISIS is trying to get a foothold, and the Taliban will re-emerge if NATO leaves, and tens of thousands of Afghans have fled in recent years, threatening a brain drain, where young minds and skilled workers are greatly needed.

The Afghan government and NGOs like ours are working to make things in Afghanistan better; to help the country face those challenges and to realize its full economic and human potential.

We are all hoping for peace soon. In the meantime, the farmers and businessmen we support, our workers and our international staff will continue to build on what we have already achieved. . We are proud to have contributed to creating economic opportunities and food security and we hope to continue to do so. Together, may we plant the Roots of Peace in Afghanistan.

 

 

Heidi Kuhn is the founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, a non-profit humanitarian organization that currently has programs in Afghanistan and Vietnam. She recently received the inaugural Earth Ethics Award from the Nobel family. 

www.rootsofpeace.com