It's no coincidence that cherries are capturing the hearts of consumers and exporters in Afghanistan.
Once in high demand, the stonefruit was almost completely wiped-out during decades of war and drought beginning in the late 1970s. But with the introduction of new cultivars, better orchard management techniques and an improved supply chain network, cherries are rebounding.
Jabarkhel Ahmadi is taking advantage of the growing demand for cherries, both in Afghanistan's domestic market as well as overseas.
“The current harvest is promising, and the demand is increasing each year,” said Nasir Ahmad Jabarkhel, the company's chief executive.
The Kabul-based company works with small-landholding farmers as well as commercial producers, providing full-service product cleaning, packaging, labeling and export.
He said Afghan farmers are planting more cherry orchards than ever before owing to the growing demand for the fruit.
The common rootstock is Mahaleb and Gisela 5. From the 22 types of cherries available, Burlat, Santina, Stella, Black star, Grace star, and Bing are most common.
Cherries require cooler growing temperatures and are common in Paghman, Wardak, Kabul, and Panjshir provinces. They ripen in mid-May and are harvested through the end of June. The company packages the cherries in 500-700g plastic containers and 5kg crates.
Jabarkhel Ahmadi has been in the dry and fresh fruits business for six years, mainly exporting fresh cherries, apples, melons, grapes, apricots and pomegranates. The primary market for these products is India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
India is the leading market for Afghan cherries, and Jabarkhel said the company is interested in exploring new markets for the coming year.
However, Jabarkhel Ahmadi has not escaped the challenges posed by Covid-19.
“I was planning to go visit countries and potential partners for my company’s products, but unfortunately, due to pandemic restrictions, I couldn’t travel,” explained Jabarkhel. “Finding new buyers was almost impossible during the pandemic.”
But with markets opening again, Jabarkhel anticipates an increase in the volume of cherries next season. He points out that many farmers in high altitude areas of Afghanistan are turning to cherries as a profitable new addition to their orchards. Greater commercial production will in turn lead to his company being able to fulfill larger contracts in the future.
“The taste and quality of fresh Afghan fruits are in high demand on the international market, and our company is ready to export and make deals for next year’s fruit season,” said Jabarkhel.