Charity Founder James Brett discusses how creating sustainable economic livelihoods for farmers can lead to the recovery of a nation, and also provide a strategy for a global model
PLANT FOR PEACE IS ABOUT RECOVERY; THE RECOVERY OF INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE AND THE RECOVERY OF NATIONS. IN 2007, I RAN INTO AN OPIUM FIELD AND CONVINCED A SOLITARY FARMER, HIS HANDS CAKED IN OPIUM FOR THE HEROIN INDUSTRY, TO GROW POMEGRANATES INSTEAD. THIS WAS THE START OF PLANT FOR PEACE.
Over the past decade, I have addressed and agreed strategy with over 55,000 elders and farmers across Afghanistanby hosting seven large gatherings, burnt narcotics with an estimated street value of US$780 million, planted over two million tree cuttings and held thousands of meetings in Afghanistan and internationally. But all parties of interest, including the Taliban, are in agreement: the Plant for Peace National Agrarian Strategy has naturally evolved into becoming a solid solution to economically sustainable livelihoods, Taliban reintegration, large scale opium reduction and ultimately peace for the people of Afghanistan.
Plant for Peace’s focus is on improving farming efficiency, irrigation, soil management and with guiding partnerships from the Royal Agricultural University of Cirencester, Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience and the UK Soil Association, a huge amount has been achieved.
At a cost of US$2 billion, the benefits of Plant for Peace for Afghanistan and the rest of the world are great. The strategy involves utilising all types of smallholder farmers’ horticultural produce by establishing multi-functional community group centres in every district. The centres incorporate farmers’ produce, cleaning and grading facilities, harvesting and orchard management training programmes and nurseries for planting millions of tree cuttings. A warehouse receipt system ensures that direct payment to farmers removes middlemen, hence managing corruption and medical and educational facilities for the farmers and their families.
The strategy is simple: 348 district community group centres where the agrarian produce of Afghanistan flows through to five international distribution centres that trade Afghanistan’s produce as a large-scale commodity to major food companies. This creates an international commodities market, as well as managing produce for Plant for Peace’s own brand value-added products. Plant for Peace’s Bridging The Gap strategy will link in-country companies to the developed world. This globalisation will transform Afghanistan into the horticultural capital of the world that it once was, prior to the Cold War.
Opium production was non-commercial in Afghanistan prior to 1982 but since then many countries have suffered the costs of heroin addiction. Financial backing is a minimal cost to help Afghanistan prosper again and recover from the trauma of conflict inflicted on its war-weary people. Financial support from international donor countries is needed to help the Plant for Peace Foundation implement this strategy on the ground at grassroots level.
Plant for Peace Commercial seeks investment to launch Plant for Peace own branded value-added products. Proof the concept has already been achieved with Afghan mulberries being exported by road to Europe where Plant for Peace fruit bars have been produced and sold at UK retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Holland & Barrett. For every product sold, Plant for Peace plants a tree sapling in Afghanistan and when the sapling is a year old, it is donated to a farmer. Through sales, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Holland & Barrett have helped plant 220,000 saplings in the past two years. On average, a single fruit bar selling at £1.09 generates £300 worth of income for the farmer throughout the longevity of the lifespan of the tree. The sooner Plant for Peace products are selling around the world, the quicker stability and large-scale licit employment will be achieved across Afghanistan, enabling many displaced farmers to return to their land, including members of the Taliban.
preliminary agreements, international retailers, airlines, blue chip companies and militaries are all potential outlets of Plant for Peace products. Their support of making the produce available to their customers is vital to the future of Afghanistan and the success of Plant for Peace.
With the support of HRH the Prince of Wales and Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the UK, Said Jawad, Plant for Peace is preparing to present the national agrarian strategy to President Ashraf Ghani and Afghanistan’s Higher Economic Council. With the strategy affirmed, implementation will take 12 years and include district centres, farm gate collection and a national logistics network as well as the five international distribution centres. This national supply chain network from farmers in Afghanistan to the homes of consumers around the world will create the bread basket of the nation and its people ensuring sustainable longevity into the future. Besides the supply chain infrastructure, Plant for Peace Commercial will establish production factories in Afghanistan, further adding to large scale employment.
“Plant for Peace is a very viable dream for Afghanistan,” were the words of His Excellency President Ashraf Ghani prior to his Presidency when he and I had lunch in 2012.Since then, the Plant for Peace model has been noticed by numerous countries and talks have taken place about expanding the model to other nations. Plant for Peace has the potential to become the largest social impact smallholder farmer supply chain network worldwide.
With proof of concept completed, major support from organisations, universities, and all factions in Afghanistan and a film under development, Plant for Peace is well on its way to becoming a household name. But does it also have the potential to change the world, to positively impact the environment and to make peace in Afghanistan and many other countries in conflict?
These questions can only be answered through its success, and its success is determined by the support it receives from governments, retailers, major food companies, consumers, philanthropists, investors and the determination of all those involved in Plant for Peace. This will ensure that positive change in Afghanistan and other countries around the world takes place in a sincere and understanding way.
Afghanistan’s farming community believes that Plant for Peace has the potential to change their lives. The relationships Plant for Peace has now built and nurtured across Afghanistan are second to none. Put simply, it is relationships that make everything happen, that enable progress, generate trust and have the potential to bring peace.
At the first gathering, the Elders told me that the reason they supported the notion of Plant for Peace was because “you are the first person to come here without a badge, a gun or a uniform and for this, thank you so much.”
It is with this innocence that Plant for Peace has evolved, and as its founder, I have attempted to become a modern pioneer of peace.