Nestled in a valley in the northern region of Afghanistan’s Faryab state, not far from the boarder of Turkmenistan and former territory of Alexander the Great, is the small village of Shirin Tagap (sweet valley). Despite 30 years of war and the unrest Shirin Tagap has been able to keep its extraordinary beauties, from its ancient culture to its traditional ways in dealing with nature and producing the best organic foods for their society. However, do to its isolation and lack of access to organic markets, high quality organic food farms are being converted to grow opium, which is becoming the most profitable crops for Afghan farmers, despite the millions of dollars spent by donor nations to stop it.
In 2014, after hearing of Hummingfish’s work in Timor-Leste, the famers of Shirin Tagap reached out to THF for help in reclaiming their ancient livelihood and glory as producers of some of the world’s best organic raisins and nuts. The Sweet Valley project aims to help the famers of Shirin Tagap create a high-end brand of raisins, nuts, jams, jellies, snack foods, juices, etc and find ways to access the world’s multi-billion dollar a year organics market.
Sweet Valley producers are also the business owners who directly benefit from increased sales and conservation of environmental resources. We anticipate to start with five farmer-members and four staff who will benefited from this project. As we further develop the production methods and markets, we expect to expand the group to include up to 200 farmers from the region. The project not only benefits the workers and farmers of Sweet Valley but also their family members, which average 10 to 15 per household.
Alleviation of poverty and the protection of natural resources are both the short- and long- term goals of all Hummingfish projects. Projects are designed to pay dividends to the communities involved in the short term, increasing incomes as quickly as possible.
The short-term and long-term economic impact for the Sweet Valley farmer-members and their community can be measured by the income generated from their products and the impact to the environment can be evaluated from the growing condition of the fields and also the natural environment in the area.
If the project is successful in developing new markets for raisins and nuts from the Shirin Tagap area, the need to grow opium which is an income generator for insurgent Teliban forces will be mitigated, benefitting all the communities there.
Project goals in the coming four years:
Establish best practice production methods
Ensure top quality products are being produced
Develop new markets for Sweet Valley in international markets
Set up new production and storage facility
Develop new products such as grape seed oils, juices, jams, butters, etc
Alleviate poverty for Shirin Tagap farmers and their families
Add value to Shirin Tagap’s natural resources
THF will buy the product upfront from the Sweet Valley farmer-members at local market prices. After the products are sold to high-end markets, the direct costs of the production, e.g., the upfront payment, the shipping and packing costs, etc., will be deducted from the profit.
100% of the profits generated buy the sale of Sweet Valley products will go directly back to the Shirin Tagap farmers. The profit, after deducting the direct costs will be shared: 50% to the farmer-members as cash dividends, 50% as a development fund for the project and the community the project belongs to. The Project will cover the deficit of the project if any (which may happen at the early stage of a project).
Every dollar earned by Sweet Valley farmer-members is a dollar of value added to their surrounding ecosystem. THF believes that earnings should go directly back to the project to help strengthen the business, develop the processing infrastructure and financially reward the farmer-members.
The plan for Sweet Valley project is to improve the production methods and hygiene standards for crops produced in Shirin Tagap, to create a brand of popular snack foods under the name of Sweet Valley. To start with, two snack foods consisting of a variety of raisin called qara mayiz mixed with locally produced almonds. The other is made with a variety of raisin called qizil mayiz mixed with locally produced pistachios. Eventually, the hope is that new products other than snack foods will be produced, such as grape seed oil, jams and jellies, almond butters, grape juices and eventually wines.
THF has been working hard to develop relationships and marketing channels with organic markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe, Canada and USA for our project products. THF insists that every product be of high quality and have an effective brand. This combination of quality product, effective branding and compelling brand stories has proven to be extremely effective for the marketing of green products.
In addition to social media and networking, THF has been actively participating in local and international trade fairs, conferences and seminars, so as to promote our projects and products.
Hummingfish director Mr. Daniel J. Groshong visited Afghanistan in August of 2014 to asses the feasibility of a project there and the market potential of Sweet Valley products. Based on the responses from organic market leaders in Hong Kong to Sweet Valley test products, there is a ready market for the products.
Over the past five years, THF has been highly effective in developing a number of projects, most notably the Ai-Funan all-natural, handmade soaps project and the Maubere Mountain Coffee project in Timor-Leste. Ai-Funan went from a small-scale soap product, being sold in Timor-Leste’s local market, to the first charity-made product ever sold on Cathay Pacific Airlines, made available on over 250 flights per day worldwide. Ai-Funan was also sold in Agnes b stores in Hong Kong and is now the most successful Timorese brand ever developed.
Maubere Mountain Coffee has also risen from one of the more inferior coffees grown in Timor-Leste to one of the best the country has to offer. Maubere Mountain Coffee is being sold in some of Hong Kong’s top restaurants and cafes, and it is enjoyed by discriminating coffee drinkers who purchase freshly roasted beans online. Ai-Funan soaps and Maubere Mountain Coffee are now being used by the government of Timor-Leste as signature, showpiece products which represent what the nation is capable of.
The success of MMCC and the Ai-Funan projects/products have been widely spread in Timor-Leste by the media and word of mouth; and also endorsement of the government. It gives THF advantages in selling our products to local and international markets as well as launching new products.
Another advantage of our projects is sustainability. Commitment to the business by the community, the community-based approach and the improvement of existing businesses, rather than imposing entirely new concepts, allows community members to develop alongside their business.
Rather than huge investments in infrastructure upfront, THF always works with project groups to make their existing products more valuable: the same product, a similar amount of labor, but a big increase in income.