Green Gold: Taliban make $15 million a year from selling pistachios

KABUL: Taliban fighters have made $15 million for their insurgency activities in 2016 from harvesting Afghanistan’s “green gold,” pistachios, over 32,000 hectares in the Kushki Kuhna district of the country’s western Herat province.

“They are being collected by the Taliban and armed locals,” lamented the head of the Badghis governor’s office, Sharafuddin Madjeedi, referring to the pistachios, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP) last year.

Syed Mohammad Chishti Modudi, the Kushki Kuhna district’s administrative chief, told Pajhwok Afghan News that “an investigation by agriculture experts showed $15 million in annual income from [the] pistachio crop in the district lined [the] Taliban’s pockets.”

“He said two pistachio forests spread over 32,000 hectares of land existed in the district,” notes Pajhwok, adding that “the forests had been partially destroyed by local powerful individuals and Taliban.”

The country’s ‘pistachio belt’ runs through the provinces of Badakhshan in the northeast, Kunduz in the north and Herat in the west. Last year, Taliban fighters raided the pistachio forests in the Herat province and managed to harvest up to 40 percent of the country’s crop.

Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, backed by the US, can hardly protect pistachio forests in the war-torn country as the Taliban closely monitors them and towns nearby.

The Taliban may have more than tripled the profits from pistachios over the last two years, from an AFP estimate of $4.2 million in 2014 to about $15 million last year.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and USAID, forest density across the country has considerably thinned, from an average of 40-100 trees per hectare before the war to 20-40 trees today.