Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rubin: NPR -- Poppies to Perfumes in Afghanistan

Ivan Watson of National Public Radio broadcast a story from Jalalabad this morning about Gulestan's effort to develop the essential oil and fragrance industry in Afghanistan:
Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, poppy production has skyrocketed in the country. The Afghan heroin industry is by far the largest in the world.

For the past several years, a group of Afghan and foreign businessmen has been trying to offer an alternative, by urging farmers to grow flowers for perfume instead of for drugs. But it has been a frustrating and costly project.

Shafiq Azizi is a perfume distiller. When he isn't picking flowers in Nimla garden, a green oasis in the dry hills of eastern Afghanistan, he works in a hot, dusty parking lot in the city of Jalalabad. He darts between a network of steel pipes and drums, dumping fragrant ingredients such as cedar wood into a giant metal vat.

By boiling the ingredients, Azizi extracts valuable oils, which can be sold on the international market for thousands of dollars per gallon.

There are a few small inaccuracies in the story. In particular it credits the U.S. government with providing aid but does not mention the larger investment made by Gulestan's founders from their own resources. It also does not mention Mathieu Beley, who was not in Jalalabad when Watson visited. Beley is the president of Gulestan and played an essential role in establishing and operating the company. The story also identifies Abdullah Arsala, founder of the Red River Essential Oils company as an entrepreneur (which is correct) but does not mention that he comes from an important family of the region. His father was killed fighting the Soviets in 1982, and he was raised by his uncle, commander Abdul Haq, who was executed by the Taliban in October 2001.

The NPR website also has a video, which you can see here. A 2006 study of Gulestan, done for the Aga Khan Development Network, is here.


Anonymous said...

Dear Barnett,

As always your posts are most interesting, but this is too cryptic to really gain a sense of the promise of lack of. Possibly you mihgt explain further.

Anonymous said...

I read parts of the Enabling Environment Conference 2006 study of Gulestanand that you suggested. It greatly helps me understand Afghanistan. Thanks for that. It is difficult and complex to say the least.

Just shooting from the hip, one thing struck me as an underlying cause for many of the frustrations. The small-scale entrepreneurs and farmers do not have enough power to work through the “government” system. What if a gang---er, I mean group of farmers showed up at one of the government offices and signaled that there would be big trouble for anyone standing in their way to build a business. What if that group recruited more people and showed up again and again?

Tell me how is that different from the methods or spirit that labor unions had to use in this country. I still remember my economics history professor telling the class that his research shows that almost no labor organization ever succeeded without being very militant and intimidating. That’s a scholarly conclusion.

Afghanistan already has more than 80 political parties, so that means that anyone who can organize a broad base can take power over these small fractious and corrupt groups.

European and Asian countries finance or actually start political parties in countries where they have an interest. Does it make sense to first organize the constituency? That’s probably harder to do than raising the money to pay those taxes.

Just brainstorming-------

Anonymous said...

Dear Barnett Rubin,
I am pleased as an Afghan to see someone who is not even Afghan, but is so involved and has so much knowledge about our country and someone who is aware of our issues. I wish we could find 10 more Barnetts to spread the message of Afghans to the rest of the world to bring change. I would also ad to the info you posted in regards to Mr. Arsala. He used to live in California, and studied at U.C Davis. We need some positive energy in Afghanistan like Mr. Arsala has brought in to picture. I am proud to see and know people who has given up the comfortable life style here in the U.S and is living abroad.

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