Spotlight on the Precious Stones of Afghanistan

For centuries, Afghanistan has been a leading producer of lapis lazuli, a gemstone favored by the ancient Egyptians. The country is also rich in several other semi-precious stones—a recent joint study by the United States Geological Survey and the Pentagon estimating the net value of Afghanistan’s untapped minerals to be around $3 trillion.

In this article, we look at Afghanistan’s gem mining industry and the jewels it exports all over the world.

Lapis Lazuli

lapis lazuli

This royal blue metamorphic rock has been prized since antiquity for its vivid color. Mining this intense blue stone since 8000 BCE, Afghanistan has some of the oldest known lapis mines in the world.

A favorite of the pharaohs, lapis was used throughout ancient Egypt to make ornaments and amulets, such as scarabs. Lapis jewelry has also been discovered at predynastic Egyptian excavations.

Lapis was used to decorate the Pyramids of Giza, and when it was ground into a fine powder, it could be used as an eyeshadow, a favorite of the Ptolemaic ruler Cleopatra. The gem will forever be associated with ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, whose ornate gold funeral mask was inlaid with the stone.

Lapis lazuli was popular in ancient Mesopotamia, where the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Akkadians utilized the gemstone to make seals and artifacts, an abundance of which have been recovered from across the region.

In the Bronze Age, lapis was sought after by Indus Valley civilizations. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli became popular with the world’s most talented artists, who ground it into a powder, making the finest and most expensive of all blue paints: ultramarine. Renowned Renaissance and Baroque artists including Titian, Perugino, Vermeer, and Masaccio famously used the color. It was usually reserved for the clothing of a painting’s central figure, particularly the Virgin Mary.

While lapis lazuli is found in other countries, these deposits pale in insignificance when compared with the vast amounts found in Afghanistan. The stone was originally mined in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan district, where one mine has been continuously been producing lapis lazuli for the international market for more than 7,000 years.

Rubies and Sapphires

Just a few hours’ drive from Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, lies the mountainous region of Jegdalek, an area renowned for producing some of the brightest, most valuable rubies in the world.

Operational for more than 500 years, Jegdalek’s ruby mines produce high-grade stones that have been popular with royalty for centuries. Despite the region’s global reputation as a leading producer of high-grade rubies, most of the stones mined in Jegdalek today are sapphires. These come in a range of different hues, from traditional blue to semi-transparent pink.

Emeralds

emeralds

Lying due north of Kabul, the Panjshir Valley is home to more than 172 separate emerald mines. Panjshir emeralds boast a distinctive bluish-green hue. They are rapidly becoming one of Afghanistan’s most prized gemstones.

Aria Gems is a new startup established by Habib Mohebi. Speaking with CNN, the entrepreneur recounted hearing about emerald mines as a young boy growing up in Kabul. Years later, Mohebi used his knowledge to reconnect him with his homeland, opening a mining operation in Afghanistan and exporting emeralds across the world. Headquartered in New York, with a gem cutting and processing center in North Dakota, Aria Gems transforms rough stones into high-end polished emeralds.

Since the company’s incorporation in 2013, Aria Gems has grown to become a leading supplier of Panjshir emeralds, shipping more than 30,000 carats of this highly sought-after stone all over the world.

Aquamarine

This blue-green member of the beryl gemstone family is prized the world over, with colors ranging from almost transparent to vivid cerulean blue. Afghan aquamarines tend to be paler in color.

Unlike emeralds, which usually feature flaws and inclusions, many aquamarine crystals are faultless. Duller, greener stones can withstand heat treatment at extremely high temperatures to achieve striking shades of sky blue. Indeed, many of the gemstones found on the market today are enhanced through heat treatment.

Tourmaline

Tourmaline

Over the past few decades, Afghanistan has grown famous for its spectacular tourmaline finds. The stone ranges in color from green, to blue, to vibrant raspberry pink, with a variety of shades in between. Like aquamarine, many tourmalines are virtually flawless in clarity.

Bi-colored tourmalines of blue-green or pink-green are occasionally found and are greatly sought after.

Other gemstones

Other gemstones commonly found in Afghanistan include red garnet, topaz, kunzite, fluorite, and quartz. Gemstone mining throughout the country is typically an artisanal activity, with high-quality stones entering the international market and sent overseas for precision cutting.

The World Bank estimates Afghanistan’s uncut gem trade to be worth around $2.75 million. With other institutions placing its value considerably higher, the government of Afghanistan is working to formalize the industry, expanding education in gemology, stonecutting, and polishing, and creating quality standards to govern Afghanistan’s blossoming gemological industry.

Everything You Need to Know about Afghanistan’s Textiles Industry

The Afghan government is currently implementing initiatives to revive the country’s textile industry. In this article, we look at the history of cotton, silk, and cashmere production in Afghanistan and potential future growth in the textile sector.

Afghan Cotton

Afghanistan produces more than 59,000 tons of cottons per year. Despite this, the country’s lack of processing factories presents significant challenges. In the past, Afghanistan boasted several major textile factories in Balkh, Kabul, Baghlan, Kandahar, and Parwan provinces employing around 30,000 people, but the industry declined over the last few decades.

cotton

Currently, only 6 percent of Afghan land is being cultivated. Afghanistan is a rugged, mountainous country. Just 12 percent of the nation is composed of arable land. Despite this, more than 80 percent of Afghans rely on agriculture to make a living.

As Afghan Finance Ministry spokesman, Ajmal Hamid Abdul Rahimzai explained to the Fashion Network website, industrialists have recently campaigned to have their recommendations to revive Afghanistan’s textile industry discussed by the high economic council. Revitalizing this valuable economic sector could create economic growth throughout Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and India entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding textiles production. As per the memorandum, both countries have pledged their commitment to cooperating, developing closer economic relations, and strengthening bilateral ties in the production of textiles, cotton, clothing, handlooms, and man-made fiber.

Afghan Silk

located on the Silk Road, the Afghan city of Herat has a long history of silk production. After years of decline, Afghanistan’s silk industry is currently experiencing a revival. Silk thread is produced by silkworms. The creature is indigenous to Herat, thanks to the abundance of mulberry bushes found there. These plants provide the insects with a plentiful supply of food.

Silkworms use the silk thread they produce to build a cocoon around themselves. When unraveled, the silk fiber from just one cocoon can measure up to a mile in length. Just 8 kilograms of silkworms can produce up to 48 kilograms of cocoons. Silk collectors earn up to $140 biannually from collecting cocoons. This is a significant income in Afghanistan.

Spinners purchase silk cocoons from gatherers, using the fibers to spin silk thread. Historically, this was performed by hand. Since the process is somewhat protracted, this significantly limited a spinner’s income. Nevertheless, the advent of modern technology has led to largescale mechanization in the trade. A spinner with more than 30 years’ experience, Azatullah Amidi, explained to the Guardian that he was able to double his production thanks to the implementation of mechanized spinning equipment.

Once the thread is transferred onto bobbins, it is transported to other regions of Afghanistan, such as Mazar, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city. Another celebrated stop on the ancient Silk Route, Mazar remains an important commercial trading center.

Afghan Cashmere

The cashmere goat is one of many native animals in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Mongolia, and China. It takes a single goat up to 12 months to produce enough wool to make just one cashmere scarf. For hundreds of years, farmers in Herat have collected the thick undercoat shed by the goat every spring, throwing it on the fires used to cook food and heat their homes. It is only relatively recently that some isolated Afghan communities have learned that this fluff could be refined and spun to make a luxury product.

Cashmere

The discovery was life-changing for Mohammad Amin, a goat herder with a flock of 120. Every springtime, after his nanny goats have kids, they shed cashmere in huge handfuls. As Amin explained to AP News, buyers travel from far and wide to buy premium quality cashmere. He sells the surplus at market. With each animal yielding up to 250 grams, Mohammad Amin can earn more than $1,100 each season. This represents a sizeable income in a country where the national average is under $700 annually.

According to statistics published by the World Bank working in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development, despite the fact that 95 percent of Afghanistan’s 7 million cashmere goats could be used in cashmere production, as few as 30 percent are currently being combed for cashmere in this way. The majority of raw Afghan cashmere is purchased by Chinese intermediaries supplying low-cost clothing manufacturers.

Afghanistan ranks third in the world in terms of cashmere production. Mongolia comes second, producing 15 percent of the world’s cashmere, lagging far behind China, at 70 percent. In recognition of this lucrative market, the Afghan government recently unveiled a Cashmere Action Plan targeting the high end of the cashmere market, where just one sweater can cost anywhere up to $1,000. The strategy forms part of broader efforts enacted by the Afghan government designed to breathe new life in the country’s textile industry.

Everything You Need to Know About Kids 4 Afghan Kids

Improving the education sector and expanding opportunities for young children in Afghanistan is the primary concern of numerous nonprofit organizations around the world. These include the Bayat Foundation, Sahar Education, Afghan Institute of Learning, Creating Hope International, and Development and Relief of Medical for Afghan Nation.

One organization working to address educational needs in the country is Kids 4 Afghan Kids. Based in the United States, the nonprofit is supported by American students, among other charitable partners, and also works to enhance cultural understanding between students in the two countries.

It was created by an American teacher and her sixth-grade class.

Kids 4 Afghan Kids was founded in 1998 by a group of Grade 6 students in Northville, Michigan. Along with the support of their teacher Khris Nedham, they wanted to provide humanitarian assistance to kids in Afghanistan who lacked the resources they had.

Targeting the Wonkhai Valley, a rural mountainous region southwest of Kabul, students raised $100,000 in three years to support the construction of a six-room school, medical clinic, guest house, bakery, and a community well. The school opened with six teachers and 465 students from Grade 1 to 6 and now has nearly 1,200 students and 16 teachers.

Students at the Northville school continue to raise money for the development of schools and other resources in the Wonkhai Valley. They achieve this via bake sales, silent auctions, and selling bracelets and Afghan products at craft fairs and other events like the Alternate Christmas Fair and Northville Victorian Festival.

Kids 4 Afghan Kids was recently added to Global Giving’s list of permanent organizations. Nedham, who still serves as its US director, earned a Citizen Diplomacy award in 2007 and addressed the Sarasota World Affairs Council in 2014.

It has helped build four schools in Afghanistan.

Since the completion of its first school in March 2001, Kids 4 Afghan Kids has raised money to support the build of an additional three schools. The first school had six classrooms. Kids 4 Afghan Kids has since built high schools. Its next goal is to build a community college for graduating students; 165 students graduated from its schools in 2014 alone.

It has supported clinic and orphanage construction.

afghanistan

During the construction of the first school in Afghanistan, Kids 4 Afghan Kids thought a lot about health care and the importance of maintaining a healthy student body. They wanted all students to be able to make the most of this new educational opportunity. The nonprofit raised money to construct a clinic across the street from the school with the purpose of providing maternity care and vaccinations for polio and MMR.

Staffed by a physician, nurse, pharmacist, nurse-midwife, and registration clerk, the clinic saw more than 200 patients per day upon opening and vaccinated roughly 98 percent of children in Wonkhai Valley. Students at the Northville school have also regularly donated eyeglasses to be used by Afghan students.

In 2002, Kids 4 Afghan Kids took notice of a significant need for an orphanage in the area. At the time, more than 30 boys were living at the school. These boys, with the help of adults in the village, dug out space for the basement of an orphanage.

During this time, students at the Northville school agreed to raise money to support the construction of the building. The orphanage now provides shelter to approximately 50 boys.

It works with a variety of partner organizations.

Since Kids 4 Afghan Kids was launched in 1998, its fund-raising avenues have expanded to include Global Giving and AmazonSmile. AmazonSmile donates 0.5 percent of the purchase price on eligible products to the nonprofit of the user’s choice.

It is considered one of the most reliable humanitarian organizations.

Following the construction of its first school, Kids 4 Afghan Kids earned recognition as one of the Center for International Disaster Information’s most reliable humanitarian organizations. Education is a valuable and in-demand resource among children in remote regions in Afghanistan. As a result, constructing schools is significantly less problematic than other charitable acts.

“For 15 years I have been answering inquiries from schools regarding how they can best respond to international emergencies,” noted CIDI Director Suzanne H. Brooks. “There have been canned food drives, used clothing or toy collections and other activities which, while they are well intended, are often problematic for the relief agencies in terms of transportation, warehousing and distribution and inappropriate or potentially harmful for disaster victims in terms of cultural, religious, and dietary needs.”