Afghanistan, ravaged by years of war, considers the Indian market more lucrative than Pakistan and wants both Indian expertise and investment in restructuring its agriculture and trade, an Afghan minister said.
"India and Pakistan are major business partners for Afghanistan but we are more focused on India as it is a big market. If we look at the business potential and the place where our traders can make more profits then it is obviously India," Mohammad Asif Rahimi, Afghanistan minister of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, told IANS.
"Currently we are exporting various primary agricultural products to India and in the coming years we want to switch to the export of processed products to this country. The Indian market is bigger than many other Asian countries and we have observed that there is huge demand for most of our products. If we are able to reach them, then our traders can easily make more money," said Rahimi.
Rahimi is here to participate in the December 3-6 Agro Tech-2010 organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Rahimi said trade did not stop even during the nearly 12 years of crisis and war in Afghanistan.
He said Afghanistan is exporting grapes, apples, pomegranate, almonds, watermelon, peach, dry fruits and walnuts to India. "In the coming months we also want to export fresh olives, olive oil, medicinal herbs, rose oil, hing, pashmina and saffron to India, he added.
Rahimi also showed keen interest in rich Indian private industries over the public sector.
"We have very good bilateral relations with the government of India and they are keen on enhancing trade with us. So far the response from the government sector is very good but besides this we are more focused on the private sector. We are exploring opportunities with Indian corporates and want them to invest in our country," the minister said.
"We will provide legal protection and would give land on a lease-basis for 90 years to new investors. There are some formalities that depend upon the amount and time of the investment. We have set a target of $4 billion investment in the field of agriculture, during the next three years, in Afghanistan," he said.
Rahimi said there were many unexplored fields and so far they had got investments from Australia, Britain, UAE, the US, Canada, World Bank and Islamic Development Bank in Afghanistan during the past few years.
"Indian investors are always welcome in Afghanistan and they would have an edge over other investors as many local people are well-versed with Indian languages," said Rahimi.
"We are gradually on the path of development. During the last few years, we have constructed over 3,000-km stretch of roads to facilitate business. Out of the eight million hectare agriculture land, 1.8 million hectare is under irrigation...so there is still huge potential for new farmers and farm-equipment companies," said Rahimi.
He said Afghanistan needed over 20,000 engineers and around 10,000 agriculture experts.
Talking about Afghanistan's food security, Rahimi said: "Wheat is our main staple food. In 2009, we were nearly self-sufficient as we were only short of 150,000 tonnes of food grains. Five years ago, we had to import half of our wheat but now this gap has been significantly bridged."
Afghanistan is also known for the highest cultivation of banned contraband opium, which is smuggled to different countries. Rahimi said with the increase of government control over agriculture, they were hopeful that opium cultivation will go down.