Despite a growing demand for and increased production of Afghan raisin products, close to 20 processing plants are expected to shut in the coming year.
Officials from the Raisin, Fruits and Vegetables Export Development Administration have reported a 13 percent hike in raisin exports from Afghanistan. However, they have also warned that much of the country's production capacity is about to go offline in part because of the lack of support the industry has received from local and national government.
At the moment, four different types of raisins are exported from Afghanistan to other Asian countries, Europe and the Americas. And just this year, 22,000 tons of red raisins have been exported abroad. Experts say increased grape crop yields, new methods of processing, standardization of packaging have all contributed to the rise in raisin exports.
"With the help that we have received from the World Bank for better packaging and processing of raisins we were able to increase exports this year, resulting in more markets for raisins from Afghanistan," said Muhammad Azim Hashemi, Director of the Raisin, Fruits and Vegetables Export Development Administration.
Nevertheless, the potential for growth in Afghanistan's raisin industry is threatened by challenges facing factories around the country. At the moment, out of 30 raisin processing factories nationwide, just 13 are operational. Experts say the lack of reliable electricity and financial support from the government are the primary factors behind the stunted growth of the raisin industry.
Most women work in raisin processing factories. Zalmai, a raisin factory owner, told TOLONews that if the government provided more support for the industry, the would be able to provide many more employment opportunities, especially for women. "If our work improves and we are supported, we can hire a lot more workers," he said.
Meanwhile, economic analysts have said that, considering the growing demand for raisins from Afghanistan, the government should seize the opportunity and support the industry's growth. They have asserted that such a strategy could help bolster government revenues and provide much needed employment opportunities.