Afghan ice cream sweetens business appetite
By Amie Ferris-Rotman
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - In a nation wrenched by decades of war, perhaps it is of no surprise that one of Afghanistan's most successful brands manufactures what is sorely lacking from the conflict-scarred landscape: joy.
The rectangular vanilla bars mechanically dipped in thick chocolate at the Herat ice cream factory in western Afghanistan are a world away from intensifying violence in a war that has dragged on into its 11th year.
Herat Ice Cream's orange sorbets, coffee-flavored bars, cones and a mock "Magnum" are sold in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, a rare success for a business benefitting from no foreign investment.
Officials in Herat province bordering Iran now want to build on such a success to turn the region into a business hub, creating a "Herat" brand in a nation where locals depending on foreign aid have largely failed at independent commerce.
"I started with half a million and now my company is worth $15 million," said Ahmad Faizi, Herat Ice Cream's chief executive, who set up the firm almost nine years ago with his savings from an import business.
His 216 employees work around the clock to make the country's beloved treats, turning imported and local milk into 30 tonnes of ice cream a day. They sell for the equivalent of 30 cents a piece and generate $5 million a year in turnover.
They are then boxed by headscarved women and shipped in chilled containers on Afghanistan's often unpaved roads, even reaching Kandahar in the south, a stronghold of Taliban insurgents, and remote mountainous areas on the border with Pakistan.
Foreign aid is dwindling as the 2014 deadline looms for NATO to withdraw most of its combat troops, sparking concern that the country's crippling corruption and shaky security could mean Afghanistan will not be able to stand on its own two feet. Continued...