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HTPU - or how OFARIN found its way into agriculture

In spring 2023, Naqib, the Afghan director of OFARIN, showed us a picture of himself on his mobile phone. A forest stretched out behind him. If you looked closely, you could see that the trunks of the trees were quite thin.

"That's a forest of eucalyptus trees. Some of our colleagues and I planted it in my home province of Khost." He also showed us a short video of him pushing stones with a tractor across a desolate, barren area. "That was four years ago. Before that, the area had to be leveled."

He had been thinking about what could be grown in Afghanistan for at least seven years. Afghan farmers usually grow wheat or maize. "Have you ever eaten cornbread?" I had. It doesn't taste good and is heavy on the stomach. Naqib often had to eat cornbread as a child. The family dog didn't eat it.

Khost is on the border with Pakistan, not far from the Indus. Monsoon foothills reach as far as Khost. Unlike most of Afghanistan, the province therefore has no water shortage. Precious woods used to grow in Khost - oaks, cedars. A hundred years ago, they were sold to British India as railroad sleepers and then to cities, especially Kabul, as firewood. In the last century, a large German forestry project in Khost and the surrounding area was supposed to ensure reforestation. However, this became more of a defensive struggle to preserve the remaining forests. During the war and civil war, which had been raging since 1978, there was nothing but deforestation. Now the province is deforested.

Firewood, especially for Kabul, is still necessary but difficult to find. Naqib and friends leased a piece of wasteland and planted 13,000 eucalyptus trees there. Eucalyptus grows quickly and is rich in fat - an ideal firewood. It is also suitable for making paper. In the event of a forest fire, the soil is sealed by a layer of fat and can then hardly be used for agricultural purposes.

A well has been constructed. A pump powered by solar energy delivers plenty of water. The forest is irrigated via pipes. A house was built and also supplied with solar energy and water. The caretaker of the forest lives in it, as those with whom Naqib planted the forest work in the OFARIN office in Kabul. They can only look after the forest at weekends. The journey from Kabul to Khost takes five hours and leads over two passes that are almost 3,000 meters high. The colleagues that Naqib was able to convince to take part in the project were sitting in the same room as him in the OFARIN office. They were our employees Tooba and Nassiba and our office manager Abdul Hussain. Tooba is Tajik, Nassiba is Uzbek. Hussain belongs to the Hazara people. Naqib is Pashtun. The participation of the colleagues consisted of a financial contribution. Each of the four of them scraped together 2500 dollars. This made it possible to pay for the lease and investments. The group gave itself the name HTPU for the Hazara, Tajik, Pashtun and Uzbek ethnic groups involved. This expresses the desire for peaceful, constructive cooperation between the peoples of Afghanistan.

The HTPU forest has now grown so much that entrepreneurs are offering to cut down all the trees. This would already be profitable for HTPU. However, as the trees are still very thin, cutting them down in two years' time will yield a far better return. Once a eucalyptus tree has been felled, two new trees grow from its stump.

We had no idea of our colleagues' activities until now. We were impressed by their entrepreneurial foresight. Not many Afghans would be prepared to invest hard-earned money and a lot of work in a project for five or six years only to make a presumably good profit afterwards.

Of course, we traveled to Khost and marveled at the eucalyptus forest. Right next to it, HTPU had leased a field and cultivated the medicinal plant Asant (asafetida). Asant develops into a turnip. It is scratched every other day. It then secretes a pungent resin smelling of garlic and onions until the next day. This can be removed the next day. A day later, the turnip is scratched again. As a remedy, the resin has a positive effect on blood pressure and digestion. Above all, it is considered to promote potency and is therefore bought at good prices by Indians and Chinese.

After three months, the plant is exhausted and no longer produces resin, but develops a large flower from which asafetida seeds can be obtained. This also sells well.

Then our colleagues in Khost showed us a greenhouse and a garden where they grow the bluebell tree. The tree is also known as Paulownia. It originates from eastern Asia. It has a long, thin trunk and large, protein-rich leaves at the top. The wood of the trunk is light, flexible but strong. It is often used in aircraft construction. The leaves can be used in livestock farming.

Paulownia also produces large flowers, which bees like to fly to. Some varieties are said to flower for six months. This can promote beekeeping. All other flowers that are flown to by bees in Afghanistan bloom for a maximum of two months, so beekeepers have to move their hives again and again. There are also attempts to plant Paulownia in Germany. However, the plant is considered to be aggressively invasive.

HTPU has already leased land for Paulownia, which is awaiting cultivation. Other crops can grow under bluebell trees. The trees receive the necessary liquid via drip irrigation, which is very interesting for Afghanistan.

Now we marveled not only at our colleagues' knowledge of the market, but also their knowledge of the plants. How did they know all this? They got most of it from the internet.

We asked a lot of questions. The colleagues explained everything exhaustively. We didn't hide our admiration. Then they came up with a proposal: our organization OFARIN should help to reforest the deforested mountains in Khost province. Such a project would have been far beyond the financial means of HTPU. We were still full of admiration for what our colleagues had tackled and how they had done it, and had them explain to us how they envisioned the reforestation.

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