The promise of Afghan pomegranates

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

The promise of Afghan pomegranates
A scheme that aims to replace poppy plantations with pomegranate orchards in war-ravaged Afghanistan is winning support with up-market UK retailer Waitrose throwing its weight behind the project.

It has begun stocking “pre-tox” ​pomegranate drink, Alibi, a UK start-up that is the first company to ally with POM354, the Afghani scheme that seeks to wipe out much of the world’s opium production, of which about 90 per cent is sourced from the Afghani poppy crop.

POM354 is the brainchild of James Brett, who founded leading UK pomegranate juice brand, Pomegreat, in 2003. It’s a company he retains a large share in although he no longer works for them after a falling out with former partners over a matter that is being dealt with in the courts.

Strong Alibi

Brett told this morning that the link-up with Alibi, a slim-line canned beverage mixing fruit juice, herbal extracts and amino acids, had opened the doors at Waitrose and other UK retailers had expressed interest in coming onboard.

“This project has the potential to put a serious dent in the global heroin trade and is an economically viable source of a fruit whose popularity is surging,”​ Brett said.

The plan is in its infancy, with just 40,000 trees planted, and these will not deliver pomegranate yields until 2011, but the Alibi deal means five pence from every can sold goes to POM354, which has gained the support of the Afghan government although the UK government is yet to come onboard.

Half a million more trees bearing the antioxidant-laden fruit will be planted all over Afghanistan’s provinces by the end of 2010.

Brett said Afghan tribes were getting behind the project, with more than 6500 tribal elders attending ‘a burning’ last year that saw something like €1bn worth of opium go up in smoke.

Ethical sourcing

With its strong humanitarian focus, POM354 functions in a sense like a FairTrade logo in that it represents ethical sourcing for end-product manfacturers.

“But it is not just in Afghanistan where this can do good,”​ Brett said. “Afghan-sourced heroin is sold around the world, so its ability to reduce drug dependency is vast.”

According to United Nations and Afghan government figures, poppy farmers can generate about €1500 per acre. Switching to pomegranates can yield €3750 per acre, Brett said.

It was “massively important” ​to gain the support of a major multiple like Waitrose, which stocks many pomegranate superfruit products, including an own-brand juice.

POM354 funds will be used to establish offices and factories and provide education and support to farmers scrapping their poppy operations.

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