Fading 70s Splendour

Fading 70s Splendour

‘Ever green’ Jalalabad is Afghanistan’s tropical city. Littered with palm trees and a pleasant balmy climate, it bridges the gap to Pakistan: culturally, economically, and geographically. As part of the research for AREU’s component of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) we were here to investigate market mechanisms and the emerging private sector ahead of a more detailed trip planned for later in the month.

This was my first visit to the city and a mere 20 minute plane ride from Kabul over the spectacular landscape of Afghanistan, which I felt would make a worthy study in and of itself, if a somewhat selfish one. In many ways it is strange to find myself in such an unfamiliar setting but one which I have intimately encountered before – from the stories and photographs of my mother’s days on the hippy trail. It’s a sad reality that the images presented to me now are of a country less developed than during her visit 40 years earlier and while Jalalabad has fared better than Kabul.

Our hotel is a representation of the faded opulence of the city. The deceptively long driveway and pristine gardens fail to detract from the armed guards manning the entrance and a crumbling exterior that lays the foundation for hallways ready to flake away with the brush of a finger.  What was once the preserve of an elite and privileged group now bears the marks of decades and conflict. However it is not only our hotel that bears these signs but as a six am visit to the Fruit market testifies, the private sector too has had to be rebuilt. This has been physical – with $633,000 investment from USAID to regenerate the marketplace, and economic – with ongoing national and international investment in the diversification of crops away from opium.

Two of the projects we encounter have been established by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics as a reward for districts becoming opium free. These include organic greenhouses and poultry farming as alternative industries and income generation sources. However a lack of technological resources in Afghanistan means that these projects are reliant on imports from Pakistan, whether these be day old chicks due to the inability to sustain hatcheries, or the components with which to build them.

Pakistani influence is felt throughout the marketplace with prices set in Rupees rather than Afghanis and while the close trade links bring a myriad of economic opportunities to the city, they also pose their own unique challenges. This is often tied to the development disparities between the two countries as fruit and vegetables in Afghanistan can only be produced and sold according to the season, consequently the prices they receive are much lower. For the perishable goods that make it to Pakistan a majority of these will be kept in cold storage and sold back onto the Afghan market, through Jalalabad, at a much higher rate once the season has ended.

As we sample the goods from the various market stalls and talk to their owners, it is clear this study will give us a better understanding of how the private sector is developing in relation to internal and external markets.