Afghan teenager finds independence through beekeeping

Three years ago, Afghan teenager Frozan began a beekeeping business. Now, with 20 hives and a buzzing business, she hopes her classmates and other women in Afghanistan will 'trust themselves and make a move' to fulfill their own entrepreneurial hopes.

Michael Probst/AP/File
A bee pollinates a flower in the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany. In Afghanistan, a young entrepreneur has started her own beekeeping business.

Three years ago a schoolgirl in rural Afghanistan took out a small loan and bought two beehives. In her first year she harvested 35 lbs. of honey, enough to repay the loan and leave her with a small profit.

In 2016 Frozan, who is now in her final year at school, made $1,728 from the 265 lbs. that her burgeoning collection of 20 beehives produced – a sizeable sum given that the country's GDP per person is around $600 a year.

"It is unique for a girl in a rural area like mine to have a private business and make a considerable income, but I trusted myself, took the chance, worked hard, and made a success of it," the 19-year-old said by phone from the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Frozan, who goes by one name, is the first schoolgirl in northern Balkh province's Marmul district to keep bees.

A beekeeping novice three years ago, a charity provided her with a loan and taught her how to look after the bees, how to extract honey, and how to improve its quality and volume.

"It is not time-consuming. I do my daily chores at home, I go to school and I can look after the beehives," she said.

Her story is unusual in other ways, too. Women and girls in Afghanistan are discriminated against on a regular basis, says UN Women, and that includes facing severe restrictions on working and studying outside their home.

Citing government figures, Human Rights Watch said last year that 85 percent of the 3.5 million Afghan children not in school are girls. And while two-thirds of adolescent boys are literate, the figure for girls is little more than half that.

That is not the situation for Frozan. The beekeeping profits pay for her and two younger sisters to attend school, and also help her father meet the costs of running a home.

"I am very happy to be self-reliant. I am also glad to have an income and be able to help my father and my sisters," she said.

The World Bank's latest figures show 39 percent of Afghanistan's population lives below the poverty line. And, it said last year, unemployment had worsened – particularly in rural areas.

Although the position of women has improved significantly since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, said UN Women, traditional practices and insecurity continue to hold them back.

That is one reason why Hand in Hand International – the UK-based charity that loaned Frozan the money to start her business – focuses on women.

"They are a vulnerable group and did not have much in the way of employment opportunities in the past," said Rafi Azimi, who works for the charity's regional office in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Empowering women economically, he said, provided them with more status in society.

The charity's goal is to tackle poverty by encouraging local entrepreneurship. Part of that involves helping entrepreneurs connect to bigger markets.

Like any beneficiary, Frozan first went through months of training on microfinance, bookkeeping, and business development.

"She was taught the basics of a business – know the market, how to conduct market surveys, and how to link the product to the right market," Ms. Azimi said.

Frozan is one of more than 38,000 Afghans who the charity has assisted since opening its Afghan office in 2007. To reach women, the staff run their programs through mosques and schools – places where women feel secure.

Once they know which businesses the women are interested in, they work with them on specific training, said Azimi. More than 1,100 people, half of whom are women, set up beekeeping business in Afghanistan with the help of the charity, Azimi said.

Every fortnight, Frozan's father takes several kilograms of honey to Mazar-i-Sharif to sell to customers at $7 per pound. Among them is the manager of the Kabul Star supermarket.

"I buy her honey because the quality is good, the packaging is nice, and the customers like it," Jawad, who goes by one name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Currently that money helps to pay for Frozan's schooling, but after she finishes high school next year she plans to move to Mazar-i-Sharif city.

There she will study economics or enter the teacher training program – funded by her beekeeping work.

And what of the bees?

"My father and my two younger sisters will look after the beehives after I leave. I taught them how to take care of the beehives and keep the business going," she said.

Frozan says her success has inspired her classmates.

"Most of my friends in school show a lot of interest in starting up their own businesses. They are looking for similar projects to start their businesses and become economically independent like me," she said. "I have progressed a lot and my business has expanded vastly. I want all the girls and women to trust themselves and make a move. I am sure they will be successful in whatever they choose to do."

This article was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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