Mint-ing Money

ICARDA and its partners in Afghanistan are promoting mint and mint products as a profitable alternative to cultivation of opium poppies. Research focuses on mint production technologies, processing methods, value addition, training, and development of markets and trade capacity – and mint cultivation is expanding rapidly.

Afghanistan produces most of the world’s opium. ICARDA and its partners in the Research on Alternative Livelihood Fund (RALF) project, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, are developing viable, profitable alternatives that will allow poor Afghan farmers to move away from illicit cultivation. One good alternative is mint.

There is a ready market for both fresh and dried mint, which are widely used in Afghan cuisine. There is also a large potential market for herbal medicines based on mint, given that a large proportion of the population relies on herbal remedies. To tap these markets, the project is addressing various issues – production technologies (introducing mint varieties and associated crop management methods), processing methods, value addition, training, and development of markets and trade capacity.
ICARDA has introduced simple, easy-to-adopt technologies for mint production and processing, and provides training, technical support and equipment. The Afghan Ministry of Health has approved the production of mint-water using the technology introduced by the project. A mint-water production and training center has been established at a government research station in Kabul, and was inaugurated in March 2006 by H.E. Obaidullah Ramin, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation.

Training efforts focus on government research and extension workers, staff from non-governmental development agencies, and others – and especially women. More than 1000 housewives have been trained on how to produce mint-water at home, or in small community-based operations.

The project has established Mint Producers Associations in three provinces, Helmand, Kunduz and Nangarhar, and provided them with equipment and training in production, packaging, and marketing. Trilingual (Dari, Pashto, and English) labels and posters have also been produced, and already, significant awareness of the medicinal uses of mint has been created. The associations are fully operational, and report profits as high as 133% from the sale of mint-water.

Another product is dry mint – dried and stored soon after the harvest, to be sold later when prices rise. The project has empowered women’s groups to produce and sell dry mint, and some women are making profits as high as 250%.

There are good prospects that mint technologies will be scaled out more widely – farmers are keen, and several private entrepreneurs as well as development agencies have approached ICARDA for assistance in establishing similar facilities in other provinces.

Mr Gul Agha once grew opium poppies. Now he’s a member of the Helmand Mint Producers Association, and plans to significantly expand his mint fields. He is an enthusiastic proponent of value addition, using the mint-water production plant installed by the project. Since May 2006, Mr Agha has produced and sold 1000 bottles of mint-water in the local market. His regular customers include private doctors and government hospitals. “I am helping the community by reducing suffering and pain,” he said. “And I earn a legal income, without guilt.”