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Saffron flower harvesting process underway in Helmand

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(Last Updated On: November 25, 2020)

In order to promote saffron cultivation in Helmand province, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) set up 12 model farms in the province last year and farmers are now harvesting their “gold”.

“Saffron cultivation in Helmand has been successful, I hope it grows [throughout] Helmand in future,” said Zalmai Alko, the provincial director of agriculture.

Alko says they established 12 model farms in Helmand to promote saffron cultivation, and farmers tending the crops have been provided with the necessary equipment. He also said these farmers were in desperate need of assistance and will now hopefully be able to move forward and earn a living from saffron.

He said that creating jobs for these farmers was a key driving force behind the establishment of the farms.

According to him, the Helmand climate is suitable for saffron cultivation and he hopes saffron farming will become more prolific in the province.

Last year, 15 saffron farms were established as part of the pilot program in Helmand, which have now yielded results, Alko said.

Helmand is infamous for the proliferation of poppy farming for opium which ends up around the world as heroin and over the years the Afghan government has tried to encourage poor farmers to move away from the illicit cultivation of poppies and switch instead to crops including wheat and pomegranates – and now, hopefully, also saffron.

The saffron flower has purple petals, yellow stamens and a three-part red-orange stigma that becomes the saffron strands.

It is usually only harvested once a year in other parts of the country, but agriculture experts believe that due to the Helmand climate, saffron might grow year-round in the province, allowing for two harvests a year.

Currently one kilogram of saffron costs about $6,000 in the region and as much as $8,000 on international markets. Growing saffron may therefore potentially be very lucrative for farmers.

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SIGAR urges tighter VIP control to stop cash smuggling through airport

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2021)

Despite efforts by the Afghan government to reduce the flow of cash out of the country’s busiest international airport, significant control weaknesses continue to exist at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported Thursday.

Cash counting machines, which were funded by the US government, are not being used for the purposes intended and the only cash counting machine confirmed to be working is in the arrival entrance, instead of the departure area where strict cash controls are most needed to help prevent cash smuggling, SIGAR reported.

In addition, the machines lack connectivity to the Internet, which in turn prevents Afghan investigative authorities from tracking currency suspected of being laundered.

“The absence of fully functional and strategically positioned cash counting machines, and declaration forms in the VIP section along with the limited screening of VIP passengers – who are most likely to have large amounts of cash – severely limits the Afghan government’s ability to fully implement its anti-money laundering laws at the airport,” John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated in the report.

To improve screening procedures at Hamid Karzai International Airport, SIGAR suggested the Afghan government take the following two actions:

1. Fully integrate cash counting machines with functioning Internet capability into the normal customs process both at the non-VIP and VIP terminals to better ensure that all declared and detected currency is counted, and serial numbers captured, for use by FinTRACA and its international partners.
2. Strengthen controls at the VIP terminal by requiring all VIP and VVIP passengers to fill out customs declaration forms, and have airport staff count any cash declared and send serial numbers to FinTRACA.

Sopko stated: “We provided a draft copy of this report to the [US] Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) for comments on December 21, 2020, and the Afghan government for comments on December 22, 2020.

“DHS provided technical comments for incorporation in the report on January 8, 2021, which we
incorporated as appropriate. The Department of State informed SIGAR on January 8, 2021 that it does not have any technical comments.

“As of the publication of this report, the Afghan government did not provide any comment on the report nor on the matters for its consideration,” Sopko stated.

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Kandahar-Spin Boldak highway project nearing completion 

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(Last Updated On: January 19, 2021)
The new and improved Kandahar to Spin Boldak Road project is nearing completion and will be a welcome development for motorists using this popular route to the border crossing with Pakistan.
 
According to the ministry of public works, construction to widen the road, making it a double lane highway, cost one billion Afghanis and covers a distance of 40km. 
 
This has been a key development project for government and it will connect the southwestern provinces with the border post in Chaman area. 
 
This route plays an important role in the trade and transit sector and also connects remote areas to the key artery. 
 
The project was broken down into two phases – the first of which extends 39.6km and has already been opened. 
 
This latest development coincides with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement on Monday that he had directed authorities to set up border markets along the country’s borders with Afghanistan and Iran to boost employment opportunities and help curb smuggling.
 
The decision to establish border markets was taken in September last year with the objective to provide jobs and promote peace.
 
“The establishment of these markets is critical for the prosperity of the population living in border areas of Balochistan and merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Khan said.
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Parliament rejects draft budget for second time

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(Last Updated On: January 16, 2021)

Members of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) have rejected the proposed budget for the new fiscal year 1400 for the second time.

MPs said the second draft budget is also unbalanced and still does not address the issue of equal pay for government employees.

MPs said they will not approve the budget until the money has been allocated appropriately and that demands of the parliament regarding the equalizing of salaries are taken into account.

They said that the government also added two more articles to the draft budget which were not acceptable to them. 

MPs first rejected the draft budget on December 30 citing “serious problems” which they said hinged on the disproportionate allocation of money to projects and emergency codes. 

The draft budget was approved by the cabinet in November following adjustments in the Public Finance and Expenditure Management Regulation, a draft plan of hydrocarbons regulation; draft statute of Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (the Afghan power company); and the draft law on cadastre.

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