Breaking the mold: Landless Afghans turn to fungi farming

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Rasool Rezaie picks mushrooms from a room he uses as his little farm for the cultivation of the plant in the outskirts of Kabul on March 13, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Rasool Rezaie picks mushrooms from a room he uses as his little farm for the cultivation of the plant in the outskirts of Kabul on March 13, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Rasool Rezaie picks mushrooms from a room he uses as his little farm for the cultivation of the plant in the outskirts of Kabul on March 13, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Rasool Rezaie picks mushrooms from a room he uses as his little farm for the cultivation of the plant in the outskirts of Kabul on March 13, 2021. (AN photo by Sayed Salahuddin)
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Updated 21 March 2021
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Breaking the mold: Landless Afghans turn to fungi farming

  • Legion of growers are cultivating highly nutritious mushrooms in their homes as a source of livelihood

KABUL: It has been three years since Jamila Khoshbo began farming oyster mushrooms in a section of her tiny house in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of southeastern Kabul.

The 48-year-old Afghan mother-of-four said that she learned how to cultivate the fungi from the local radio and “decided to try it since it requires much less space, water and money to grow.”

“I have been in this business since 2019. All you need is a space of four by five meters, and clean wheat straw with chlorine. Keep the mushrooms in plastic bags vertically on posts in humid conditions for several weeks and they will be ready to eat or sell,” Khoshbo told Arab News.

Today, she earns nearly $200 a month — more than the salary of a government employee — by selling to grocers in the area.

Khoshbo is one of a growing number of landless women who are growing highly nutritious mushrooms in their kitchens or backyards rather than working in the male-dominated farming sector.

Since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, Afghan women have regained the right to education, to vote and to work outside their homes.

Still, it is not an easy place to be a woman, with forced marriages, domestic violence and maternal mortality prevalent across the country, particularly in rural areas.

However, access to public life has improved, especially in the capital Kabul, where most women work, and more than a quarter of the parliament is female.

Also, with drought and an acute water shortage affecting several areas of this mainly agricultural nation, growing mushrooms has offered a new lease of life to traditional farmers who prefer cultivating the fungi to other fruits and vegetables since it is cheap and “low maintenance.”

“It needs little water and is a very good, small-scale and clean business which requires two to three people to operate,” Rasool Rezaie, a 28-year-old resident of the Ghazni province in central Afghanistan, told Arab News.

Rezaie learned to grow mushrooms during a stay in Russia in 2012, when he had moved there to escape the insecurity and unemployment plaguing Afghanistan.

He returned to his homeland in 2016 and began selling computers. But “business was not good at all,” he said.

Two years ago, he set up a “mushroom farm” in Kabul.

“I was passing the Ministry of Agriculture one day and saw an official teaching a group of people how to grow mushrooms. Suddenly, I recalled my experience in Russia and set up this business,” Rezaie told Arab News.

His initial farm was small and produced 50 kg of mushrooms, but he has expanded the business to “bigger rooms” and now cultivates nearly 1,000 kg, earning $500 per month.

The cash flow is important for Rezaie, who is the family’s sole bread earner and takes care of his siblings following their parents’ death.

“I sell the mushrooms in the local market and teach new farmers, too,” he said, providing a textbook example of crowdsourced domestic farming by using limited resources.

“It’s easy to learn. I explain the process to interested customers, discuss what sort of tools they need and how to keep the buds at a certain temperature, etc. If someone else can benefit from growing mushrooms, why not?” he said.

Officials agree, with Mohammad Aman Aman, head of the agriculture ministry’s forestry department, telling Arab News that Afghanistan’s “conditions” were ideal for farming the fungi.

“Growing mushrooms is highly effective in this country because they do not need a lot of land or water. We have made proposals to the presidential palace to promote the growth of mushrooms,” he said.

Aman said that while the oyster variety is the most popular choice among farmers, plans are in place to cultivate truffles and morels — the more expensive assortments — as well.

“We export a small number of truffles produced here to India. So our push is to promote the idea of its growth because it is far more beneficial financially,” he said.

Afghans have for generations consumed wild mushrooms, which sprout in the mountainous north and northeastern regions of the country during spring.

The traditional condiment is added to soups and qorma — a meat-based dish infused with herbs, spices and dry fruits — but is increasingly sought after in restaurants selling pizzas.

In recent years, there has been a surge in mushroom consumption in urban and rural areas, according to traders.

“We buy it from farmers for less than $2 for a kilogram and sell it for double that sometimes. Business is good,” Rasool Dad, a hawker in Kabul, told Arab News.

Rezaie said that he hoped that Afghans’ newfound love for mushrooms could be a catalyst for change in other areas, too, such as altering the country’s image as the global producer of opium.

According to UN estimates, nearly 163,000 ha of land were used for poppy cultivation in 2019.

“If we can produce truffle and morels in large quantities, then farmers will gradually abandon the cultivation of poppy here because these two varieties are costly abroad,” he said.


Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

Updated 11 sec ago
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Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

  • Stance relayed during face-to-face talks between British FM, Israeli PM Wednesday
  • ‘We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation’

LONDON: The UK will not proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.

The stance was reportedly relayed by UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron during a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday.

The Israeli government reportedly requested that the UK ban the IRGC following Iran’s drone and missile attack last week.

But Cameron, in what a source called a “blunt” response, told Netanyahu and Katz that doing so would hinder London’s ability to communicate with Tehran.

“We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation,” the source reported Cameron as saying.

If the IRGC were to be proscribed in the UK, it would make membership of it, attending its meetings, displaying its symbols or campaigning for it in the country illegal.

The move has been considered by the UK government for over a year, but Home Office officials have long warned that doing so would sever one of the few remaining diplomatic channels with Tehran. Instead, the IRGC has been sanctioned by the UK government on several occasions.

The US, which has banned the IRGC, has also suggested that the UK should proscribe it. The group’s navy was recently included in a new set of joint sanctions issued by London and Washington.


US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

Updated 22 min 22 sec ago
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US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

  • 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution
  • Palestinians currently non-member observer state, de facto recognition of statehood

NEW YORK: The US will on Thursday vote against a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, a US official told Reuters, blocking the world body from effectively recognizing a Palestinian state.
“It remains the US view that the most expeditious path toward statehood for the Palestinian people is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the support of the United States and other partners,” the US official said.
The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”
A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.
“We have long been clear that premature actions in New York, even with the best intentions, will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people,” the US official said.
The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.
The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.
“Failure to make progress toward a two-State solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

DIRECT TALKS
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.
“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.
He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”
The UN Security Council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.
Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?“
“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution ... are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.
Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”


After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

Updated 18 April 2024
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After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

  • Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required stringent containment
  • Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size

LONDON: The World Health Organization and around 500 experts have agreed for the first time what it means for a disease to spread through the air, in a bid to avoid the confusion early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some scientists have said cost lives.
The Geneva-based UN health agency released a technical document on the topic on Thursday. It said it was the first step toward working out how to better prevent this kind of transmission, both for existing diseases like measles and for future pandemic threats.
The document concludes that the descriptor “through the air” can be used for infectious diseases where the main type of transmission involves the pathogen traveling through the air or being suspended in the air, in line with other terms such as “waterborne” diseases, which are understood across disciplines and by the public.
Almost 500 experts contributed to the definition, including physicists, public health professionals and engineers, many of whom disagreed bitterly over the topic in the past.
Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required very stringent containment measures; the new definition says the risk of exposure and severity of disease should also be considered.
Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size, which the new definition moves away from.
During the early days of COVID in 2020, around 200 aerosol scientists publicly complained that the WHO had failed to warn people of the risk that the virus could spread through the air. This led to an overemphasis on measures like handwashing to stop the virus, rather than focusing on ventilation, they said.
On Wednesday, Democrats in the Arizona state House failed to repeal a controversial ban on abortion that dates back to 1864 after they couldn’t muster Republican support.
By July 2020, the agency said there was “evidence emerging” of airborne spread, but its then chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan – who began the process to get a definition – later said, opens new tab the WHO should have been more forceful “much earlier.”
Her successor, Jeremy Farrar, said in an interview that the new definition was about more than COVID, but he added that at the beginning of the pandemic there was a lack of evidence available and experts including the WHO acted in “good faith.” At that time, he was head of the Wellcome Trust charity and advised the British government on the pandemic.
Farrar said getting the definition agreed among experts from all disciplines would allow discussions to begin about issues such as ventilation in many different settings, from hospitals to schools.
He compared it to the realization that blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis B could be spread by medics not wearing gloves during procedures.
“When I started out, medical students, nurses, doctors, none of us wore gloves to take blood,” he told Reuters. “Now it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t wear gloves. But that came because everyone agreed on what the issue was, they agreed on the terminology… [The change in practice] came later.”


Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Updated 36 min 10 sec ago
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Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

  • Mohammed Salem won for heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece
  • Inas Abu Maamar holds five-year-old Saly, killed along with her mother and sister when Israeli missile struck their home

PARIS: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem captured this year’s prestigious World Press Photo of the Year award Thursday with a depiction of loss and sorrow in Gaza, a heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece. The photograph, taken in Khan Younis just days after Salem’s own child was born, shows 36-year-old Inas Abu Maamar holding five-year-old Saly, who was killed along with her mother and sister when an Israeli missile struck their home.
Salem, who is Palestinian, described this photo filed Nov. 2 last year, as a “powerful and sad moment that sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip.”
The image ”truly encapsulates this sense of impact,” said global jury chair Fiona Shields, The Guardian newspaper’s head of photography. “It is incredibly moving to view and at the same time an argument for peace, which is extremely powerful when peace can sometimes feel like an unlikely fantasy,” she added.
The World Press Photo jury praised the shot’s sense of care and respect and its offering of a “metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”

This image provided by World Press Photo and taken by Julia Kochetova is part of a series titles War is Personal which won the World Press Photo Open Format Award. Amidst tens of thousands of civilian and military causalities and an effective stalemate that has lasted for months, there are no signs of peace on the horizon for Russia’s war in Ukraine. (World Press Photo via AP)

This is not the first time Salem has been recognized for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he received a World Press Photo award more than a decade ago for another depiction of the human toll of conflict in the Gaza strip.
In the three other global categories announced Thursday, South Africa’s Lee-Ann Olwage won Photo Story of the Year for her touching series “Valim-babena,” featured in GEO magazine. The project focused on the stigmatization of dementia in Madagascar, a topic she explored through intimate portraits of “Dada Paul” and his family. Lack of public awareness surrounding dementia means that people displaying symptoms of memory loss are often stigmatized.
In the series, “Dada Paul,” who has lived with dementia for 11 years, is tenderly cared for by his daughter Fara. One of the standout images in the series shows him preparing for church with his granddaughter Odliatemix, capturing moments of normalcy and warmth amidst the challenges of dementia.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of a multimedia project by AP’s Renata Brito and Felipe Dana title Adrift, won the World Press Photo Africa Regional Winner Open Format category and shows a mortuary technician opening the door of a refrigerator used to store the remains of migrants recovered from inside the Mauritania boat that appeared drifting near the island of Tobago in Scarborough on January 25, 2022. (AP)

Photographer Alejandro Cegarra, a Venezuelan native who migrated to Mexico in 2017, won the Long-Term Project award for “The Two Walls,” published by The New York Times and Bloomberg. Cegarra’s project, initiated in 2018, examines a shift in Mexico’s immigration policies, which have moved from being historically open to enforcing strict regulations at its southern border. The jury said the photographer’s perspective as a migrant gave it a “sensitive,” human-centered perspective, according to a press release.
Julia Kochetova of Ukraine won the Open Format award for “War Is Personal.” The project stood out from coverage of the ongoing conflict by offering a personal look at the harsh realities of war. On a dedicated website, she merged traditional photojournalism with a diary-like documentary style, incorporating photography, poetry, audio clips and music.
The Associated Press won the Open Format award in the regional Africa category with the multimedia story “Adrift,” created by journalists Renata Brito and Felipe Dana. The story investigates the fate of West African migrants who attempted to reach Europe via a treacherous Atlantic route but ended up on a ghost ship discovered off Tobago. The team’s compelling use of photography, cinematography and detailed narrative, enhanced by expert design and multimedia elements, highlights the perils faced by migrants and the human stories behind global migration issues.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of series titles Afghanistan on the Edge by Ebrahim Noroozi, Associated Press, which won the World Press Photo Asia Series category and shows three Afghan internally displaced children look with surprise at an apple that their mother brought home after begging in a camp on the outskirts of Kabul on February 2, 2023. (AP)

The Associated Press’ Ebrahim Noroozi won the Asia Stories award for his series “Afghanistan on the Edge,” which documents the country since the Taliban took over in August 2021.
World Press Photo is an independent, nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, founded in 1955.


France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday in Paris. (File/Reuters/AFP)
Updated 18 April 2024
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France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

  • Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired
  • Former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis

PARIS: France President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun on Friday in Paris, the French presidency said.
The announcement on Thursday comes as fears have increased in recent days of a regional escalation in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic and political crisis.
That has been compounded by near-daily cross-border fire between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and neighboring Israel ever since war erupted on October 7 between Israel and Hamas, a Hezbollah ally.
Hezbollah on Thursday said two of its fighters had been killed as Israel appeared to intensify strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.
Fears of a regional conflict have spiked in recent days after Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.
Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired, with its feuding factions repeatedly failing in parliament to elect a new leader.
The multi-confessional former French colony is also in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Mikati has been prime minister since 2021 but leads a caretaker government with limited powers.
Joseph Aoun, no relation to the country’s former president, has good relations with all sides in the country and is sometimes put forward as someone who could lead it out of political deadlock.
Macron has visited the country twice in recent years in a bid to help bring it out of crisis, but then in 2023 assigned the task to former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.