Posts Tagged ‘Plant for Peace’
For the grey-bearded Afghan opium farmer, the sight of a large, red-headed white man running through his poppy field in traditional Afghan clothes was one of the strangest things he’d seen. For James Brett, a British entrepreneur with a penchant for adventure and an obsession with pomegranates, running into a field of opium in one of Afghanistan’s most lawless provinces felt completely natural.
“My translator kept telling me I’d get shot,” says Brett, his burly frame rocking with laughter. “It irritated me. I didn’t have time to worry about silly things like that. Bless the farmer: he looked more shocked than me.”
By the end of the bizarre encounter, Brett had persuaded the farmer to grow pomegranates instead of opium. He pulled out a white cardboard sign, scrawled the words “Pomegranate is the answer” on it in blue marker, and took a few photographs of himself and the bewildered farmer. He promised to return.
Those five minutes in the poppy field changed his life irreversibly, he says. If the eccentric Brit from Swindon has it his way, they will also change Afghanistan.
“It was a massive eye-opener,” Brett says, as he recalls the experience. “I realised that the people growing opium are oblivious to what it can do in our society. In the back of beyond of Afghanistan, people don’t have a clue.”
In 2007, Brett, a father of three, took the first step towards helping Afghan farmers plant pomegranate trees instead of opium. He launched the initiative Plant for Peace, originally calling it POM354, after his car numberplate, but changing the name soon afterwards. Out of that has grown a wildly ambitious scheme that aims to revive Afghanistan’s entire horticultural sector and, in the process, foster the peace and security that has so far eluded western powers fighting the Taliban since 2001. It’s an almighty task for one man to accomplish. But since its inception five years ago, Plant for Peace has won powerful backing: supporters include Lady Caroline Richards, the wife of the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, and the Marquess of Reading.
To raise cash for his plan and to encourage the food industry to buy Afghan products, Brett will produce a fruit bar made entirely from ingredients grown in Afghanistan, including pomegranates and mulberries (plus raisins and almonds). Working initially with a factory in Sunderland, he expects to launch the bar later this year.
Brett hopes the bar’s production will prove to other British companies that importing Afghan ingredients and investing in Afghanistan’s food sector is worthwhile, and that this will, in turn, lead to a future in which Afghanistan will once again export juice, fruit and nuts to a global market.
I met Brett on a sunny day at my house in Kabul. Read the rest of this entry »