F&B entrepreneur Todd Darling is a hardened traveller, but a recent trip to Afghanistan was even out of his comfort zone. While many organic food evangelists are willing to go far in search of produce, few are willing to travel in an armoured car with a security detail.
“There was a brief moment of doubt as I was leaving [Istanbul, where he obtained his visa], but at that point it was too late,” Darling, 35, says.
“When I stepped out on to the tarmac in Afghanistan, I had feelings of acceptance and excitement. I didn’t know what to expect after the war and chaos. I was overwhelmed by the sophistication, the sense of history, of culture, of religion.”
Darling travelled to Mazar-i-Sharif, home to the Blue Mosque, a revered site for Sunni Muslims. There he met farmers who had been bypassed by the 1970s green and chemical revolutions that transformed farming throughout much of the rest of Asia. He knew much of the food would be organic by default because Afghan farmers had never had the opportunity to use chemical fertilisers.
Darling had a further motive in buying Afghan produce: “I wanted to find some farmers and pay them higher prices than the Taliban could offer for opium poppies,” he says.
He was made aware of the farmers’ plight by the Hummingfish Foundation, an NGO that works to develop sustainable businesses in developing Asian countries such as East Timor, and most recently Afghanistan.