WKND Special: A tale of princesses from Afghanistan
A peek into a unique initiative that empowers the country’s independent woman farmers
As I open the Mira box, which has come wrapped in a piece of cloth dotted with abstract art in bright hues, something speaks to me. It’s just another box holding dried fruits and nuts, one may say. The raisins, almonds, walnuts, mulberries, and more, have no additives, preservatives, or added sugars, making it a healthy option to snack on. But it’s not the health benefits that stir something in me, it’s the little note that comes along with it, that piques my curiosity and urges me to dig deeper and know the story behind the natural handpicked dried fruit, nuts and saffron from Afghanistan.
Mira is a social enterprise by Fatima Bint Mohamed bin Zayed Initiative (FBMI) that aims to empower the world’s most underprivileged communities by creating a market to sell their produce globally, with all profits invested back into the initiative. Mira represents independent farmers from nearly every corner of Afghanistan, uniting them in the shared vision upon which Mira Farms (spread across the country from East to West, in various regions such as Kandahar, Helmand, Kabul, Herat, Uruzgan, Zabul, Samangan, Kapisa, Ghazni and Nimroz) was inspired. But where does the name Mira come from? “Mira is specifically an Emirati term used in the UAE. The word Mira is short version of Amira meaning princess in the Arabic language,” says Maywand Jabarkhyl, CEO, FBMI. “It is also related to the Latin word for wonderful and in Slavic languages it means peace! What a truly wonderful name for our mission and moreover, what a wonderful name for the women we support.”
Since 2008, Maywand has worked to help the most vulnerable Afghans in a meaningful way. In 2020, he expanded his vision to help build a more equal, safe and fair country for Afghan women by launching Mira Farms. Growing up in the UK as son of Afghan immigrants instilled in him the resilience and purpose to create a brighter future for Afghanistan. However, the story of empowering women goes back 11 years, as FBMI has been working in Afghanistan to empower women through the art of handmade carpet making. “Since the inception of FBMI, we have always been exploring ways to empower farmers as well,” shares Maywand. Today, the produce, which includes Afghanistan’s ‘red gold’ saffron, is sold globally and is also available for consumers to shop online. And did you know that this saffron is the world’s most lucrative spice? Rich in vitamin B and C, it is a powerful antioxidant that has been dubbed a ‘vitamin bomb’ by health experts, and hence comes as no surprise that it takes 100,000 flowers to yield one kilogram of spice!
Whilst all this does sound like a realisation of a big dream, the task of convincing women to be part of a commercial venture, even if it is for their benefit, was challenging. Maywand points out that since they were travelling to the country (Afghanistan) for the past so many years, they’d managed to build a trustworthy relationship with hard-working women. "We believe that women should be empowered to contribute to society with dignity and have regular access to healthcare and education for themselves and their loved ones. Treating women fairly and wanting to empower them has meant that we haven’t encountered any such challenges,” he adds. Well, Mira has already been inundated with requests to expand to other countries, and their aim is to expand to GCC countries and then globally within the next 10 years. Additionally, governments, NGOs, international organisations and private sector companies have also approached FBMI to implement the unique model globally. “Sustainability is at the core of our efforts. Therefore, our mission will evolve around that element,” Maywand says.
As I savour the tangy-sweet raisins and soft-shelled almonds, we touch upon the tad gloomy side of this story, the lives of people in Afghanistan. Maywand describes what the people have been through during the more than 40 years of war as tragic. “On top of this, Afghanistan remains a highly patriarchal society. Any woman who has encountered such tragedies is, undoubtedly, special. Our mission is to empower these women.”
Needless to say, the real-life difference the team is making at the grassroots is something to take pride in and that’s what makes the box of produce special! Such has been the impact that today one of the first employees to be employed by FBMI is now a senator in the Afghan Government — H.E. Senator Maliha Jami. “Despite being disabled, with the support of our initiative H.E. has overcome numerous societal and personal challenges to prove that Afghan women deserve a chance,” Maywand signs off.