The founder of Homegrown Foods has been on a long term mission to uncover new organic products from far-flung places to add to their Hong Kong offerings. His trek led him to the perilous and fascinating fields of Afghanistan and resulted in uncovering some unique items.
Aided by the Hummingfish Foundation that works to develop sustainable businesses in developing countries in Asia, Todd discovered that the Afghan growers, unlike those in the rest of Asia, had been bypassed by the chemical revolutions of the 1970s, meaning that all of their products are organic. By exporting them, these farmers hope to be able to continue their traditional methods of production. Todd details his latest food finding mission:
Why did you choose Afghanistan for your latest trip? I didn’t choose it; it chose me. We were approached through a local NGO called Hummingfish Foundation to see if we would be interested in meeting farmers in Afghanistan. I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity.
Why do you feel it was worth the danger involved in travelling somewhere like Afghanistan? It’s worth it on many levels, personally I feel it’s important to see the world with your own eyes and meet people face to face to understand more what makes the world turn. On a business level, it’s a great opportunity to do a great business by helping people who need it and at the same time delivering a great product to our customers.
Did you find yourself in any overtly dangerous situations while you were there? We had a very good security escort and armoured vehicles, so we were well protected the whole time. We learned some important points that are essential to visiting countries with security problems, such as keep moving and adapt to local customs.
Was there a huge language barrier on this trip? We worked as we always do through a translator. In all my experiences language has not hampered the completion of a deal.
Is it difficult to ascertain whether a farm is organic? Yes, unless you develop a bond and a relationship with your farmers.
What are some of the challenges Afghan farmers are currently facing? They face pressure from the Taliban to grow Opium poppy, and also taxes from the Taliban on their goods. They do not have a diversified export opportunity for their goods and this is all in addition to the challenges that all farmers face related to lack of government support and climate challenges. However, all good farmers have adapted special techniques to meet the challenges they face locally. I was moved by the passion and integrity and courage of the farmers I met. Each was warm and hospitable, proud, and had a very strong view of politics, religion, and love.
What are some of the characteristics of the new products you are now stocking from Afghanistan? We have a variety of raisins and almonds only found in Afghanistan and suited for that climate; old varieties that have been around centuries. The most exceptional is the mulberry syrup to me. It’s delicious and has medicinal properties, good for colds and upset stomachs.
What’s something you learned on this latest exploration? I learned not to create preconceived notions about people and places based solely on what you hear or see in the news.
Why do you feel travel is important to your business? It’s the best way to ensure quality and stay inspired.
Why is organic and fair trade such a passion for you personally? I believe that the people who produce our goods are as important as the people who sell it. And I believe that organic products are priced including externalities that conventional products don’t price in, and they are better for us and better for the environment.
Where are you off organic farm-hunting next? I’m currently in Mongolia right now while I answer this interview, researching sea buckthorn and yak jerky.