Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Arghand was founded in May 2005, by Sarah Chayes, a former National Public Radio reporter who stayed behind in Afghanistan to help rebuild the war-torn country. She and a handful of loyal and daring Kandaharis decided to explore a notion for how to add value to celebrated local fruit crops, long the fame of the region. Given the explosion in international demand for fine natural skin-care products, and the abundance of their raw materials in the orchards of southern Afghanistan – almonds, apricots, pomegranates, the precious blossoms of Rosa damascena – Arghand members decided to try to carve out a place for Afghanistan in this young market.

The road, they all agree, has been a voyage of discovery, as they have distilled the blossoms and leaves of wild plants they have gathered on the rock-strewn hillsides overlooking Kandahar, as they have discovered abundant indigenous root-crops, such as licorice root and madder, whose cultivation they can now encourage, as they have found through their own experimentation unexpected properties of pomegranate juice. The result is a unique line of soaps and oils, whose aesthetic beauty and skin-nourishing virtues are truly unparalleled.

Arghand is a cooperative, registered with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture. As such, it, its assets, risks, and revenues are the joint property of those who contribute their efforts to its activities. Planning and decision-making are carried out by consensus, after consultations among all members. Officers are elected at an annual general assembly.

Arghand’s long-term objective is to contribute to the process of weaning southern Afghanistan off of its dependence on the opium poppy. This scourge is distorting the region’s economy, criminalizing its politics, and putting its people at the mercy of armed gangs and so-called insurgents. Only by expanding the market for licit local agriculture, Arghand members believe, can the rural population be freed from the grasp of opium. Arghand therefore works directly with local farmers for the provision of its raw materials, and over time will be including them among its members.
The idea is to bring these farmers a higher return for their produce by eliminating middlemen, and to help solve their chronic infrastructure problems by picking up their produce at the farm gate, rather than obliging them to bring it to market. In 2005 and 2006, this goal was somewhat elusive, since the security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that villagers fear retaliation by “insurgents,” if they are seen to have connections with anyone linked to the current government.
(Please see “Notes from the Field,” October 31, 2005.) Arghand also hopes to be a channel for new agricultural techniques – organic wherever possible and conservative of resources – as well as general know-how and equipment to participating farmers.
In consultation with weavers from Herat, we have designed a line of women's scarves based on the traditional Afghan turban. One solid color is set off at both ends by two bands of a contrasting color. Arghand soaps are tied with scraps of silk from these same weavers.

These exclusive scarves are made of silk that is hand spun and hand woven on traditional wooden spinning wheels and looms.By offering these scarves for sale, Arghand helps preserve Afghanistan's artisanal heritage.

We are so excited at Botany's Desire to have added these beautiful handmade silk scarfs and soaps that are making a serious global impact. We hope that you will help us support this great organization that is backed by the United States and Canada as well as other countries around the world.

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