Mountain Fruits Company – MFC
The Mountain Fruits Company was established in 2000 and is at present the only company in Pakistan processing and exporting organic, fairtrade dried fruits, nuts and nut oils. This company was formed as a result of a development project of the Aga-Khan foundation. The original aim of increasing the income and the range of activities of the farmers in these remote and conflictive Gilgit-Baltistan regions has always been maintained.
The Pakistani extra territory of Gilgit-Baltistan is located in the far North of the country and forms part of the region of Kashmir ; a region which has been subject to conflicts between India, Pakistan and China for more than half a century. In the new millennium Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters tried to raise a claim to this area and voiced their intention to unite the Muslim majority of this region’s population in a caliphate by means of a joint jihad.
Geographically, this region is located at the foothills of the Karakorum. This mountain range extends over the North of Pakistan, India and Western China. Some of the world’s highest mountains are situated in this mountain range e.g. K2 (8051m), Gasherbrum I and II (8080m and 8034m respectively).
In this area – surrounded by majestic mountains – lies the producing region of the small farmers, who have joined the Mountain Fruits Association (MonAFFA). There are currently 63 groups of men and 10 groups of women in total who are organized in different fairtrade associations, depending on the valleys they are affiliated with. They are centrally managed by a member of the board of the MonAFFA.
To this day, approximately 50 percent of the almond production is organically certified. The aim is to further develop the organic production methods as well as to support the sustainable agricultural structures.
The farmers have never used any pesticides or chemical fertilizers; it must, however, be said that this was also due to the fact that these additives were difficult to acquire locally and local farmers could not afford them.
During the harvest season in September, the Mountain Fruits Company purchases between 200 to 280 tons of almonds (in their shells) from roughly 1400 almond farmers from the region.
In an automated process, the almonds are then cracked and pre-sorted in a factory, which was built especially for this purpose in 2010. After this procedure, the almonds are checked and hand-sorted again in order to reduce to a minimum the risk of foreign particles. This particular work is carried out exclusively by women.
“The almonds from Pakistan are sweeter than the ones we know from California“, says Mr Sher Gazi, the founder of the Mountain Fruits Company. “The size and colour of each almond kernel may vary because the local farmers are cultivating more than 40 different varieties“, he continues.