Roses For Afghanistan

By Lindsay Wilson

For the past few decades, everything has not been coming up roses for war-ravaged Afghanistan, but that may be changing for some Afghan farmers. Thanks to a project sponsored by German NGO Agro Action and WALA—the company behind beauty mogul Dr. Hauschka—nearly 300 Afghan farmers have signed on to grow organic roses instead of illegal opium poppies. The project started in 2004 to provide an alternative income for farmers trapped in the dangerous, but highly lucrative, opium poppy trade, and so far, it’s working.

“The project is flourishing, with many local farmers expressing interest in participating,” says Ralf Kunert, head of WALA’s purchasing department. “We hope to see the size of the rose fields double in the next two years.” Currently, farmers tend about 100 acres of organic roses.

Norbert Burger, program manager of the project in Jalalabad, says the Afghan farmers embrace the project because roses, historically grown in this part of the world, are easy to maintain, requiring little more than compost and trimming, and provide the farmers with a respectable income. “The biggest obstacle here is the political situation,” Burger says, “but it is said that one of the properties of the rose is ‘heart opening’; maybe that’s why we work with roses here.”

Annually, WALA purchases (at a fair price) about 85 percent of these roses for use in its homeopathic remedies and cosmetics, Kunert says. The rest are sold mostly in US, Japanese, and European markets.