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The Helmand National Investors Association: Strength in Numbers

Helmand is still one of the most difficult operating environments in Afghanistan. Despite the security challenges, local entrepreneurs in the country’s largest province display a remarkable sense of resilience, helped by the PDM-Helmand project, which is accredited with having facilitated almost $150 million in contracts awarded to Helmandi companies by international buyers, thereby creating thousands of local jobs. Now, meet entrepreneurs who are building the Helmandi marketplace!

These stories were written by Nooruddin Bakhshi. He is an Afghan journalist who has worked for many years with The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Times. He has also worked on several NGO communication projects. He is based in Kabul.

When ten men got together to form the Helmand National Investors Association — HNIA (formerly known as the Helmand Business Association) in 2010, it was a step towards providing one of the bases needed for formalizing the province’s business sector. While most of the province, the country’s largest, is composed of either sole or small enterprises, the group believed that in order to encourage larger investment, a collective group was needed.

“We needed a voice and an organization that could help solve any problem that businesses were having with the government or other businesses,” said HNIA Deputy Haji Hamidullah.

The association could act as a lobby group to convey its concerns to the government and help improve the conditions for the province’s biggest employers to foster more economic growth and therefore increase local employment. But its early success was to give would-be-investors a go-to point. Here, BM’s team of business development experts helped the HNIA augment its entrepreneurial services, particularly its networking service, which introduces out-of-province and international investors to the HNIA members.

The Bost Improved Seed Company is a member of the HNIA. Mr. Mohammad Akar, the company’s leader, is critical of the government’s attitude toward business. “There is no encouragement for businesses to invest,” he says. While the Helmand river basin has the potential to produce the best sugar and the best wheat, he says the government has done little to help achieve these goals. He adds that too many farmers continue to focus on growing opium when the government needs to do more to discourage it. “The government should do more to show that if you invest in the black thing (opium) you will go to jail, but if you invest in legal crops, you will get money, power and help the country,” Mr Akar said.

There are currently 250 businesses registered with the HNIA, showing the scarcity of largescale businesses in Helmand. Of these, 60 per cent are involved in construction. Most of the others are involved in agriculture.

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