In 1999, whilst on a business trip to Peshawar in the North West frontier Province of Pakistan, I drank Pomegranate juice for the first time. My immediate reaction was that Pomegranate juice just had to be made available for sale throughout the UK and Europe.
I then founded the first Pomegranate juice drink in the UK - Pomegreat.
Since 1999 I have studied the health benefits of the Pomegranate and researched the full diversity of the fruit understanding its full potential in its natural form and additionally through processing the fruit into the many products that the Pomegranate can achieve.
My research led me to realize that Afghanistan has the best pomegranates in the world especially Kandahar. I also recognized that Afghanistan was a major producer of Heroin.
Understanding the potential of the Pomegranate Industry on an International level and that the best Pomegranates were grown in Afghanistan I recognized that the Pomegranate was not only the best option as an Alternative livelihood to Poppy (opium) but was the only feasible one.
In the first article about myself founding ‘Pomegreat’ I mentioned this under the title ’An ancient cure all’. Please see article ‘James drink is just Pomegreat’.
In April 2007 I was invited to a seminar in Kabul to talk about Pomegranates with farmers from various parts of Afghanistan. I decided to fly to Peshawar and drive through the Khyber Pass across into Afghanistan and continue by road to Kabul.
Meeting the farmer
Whilst driving through Nangarhar Province towards Jalalabad I noticed many fields full of Poppies (opium). In one particular field I saw a farmer cutting the heads of the Poppies to harvest his crop.
After attending the seminar I went to a printing shop and bought a big piece of card and a blue marker pen.
On the drive back to Peshawar I saw the same farmer in his fields harvesting his crop. I asked my driver to stop the car. On the card I had previously bought I wrote the words ‘Pomegranate is the Answer’ and ran into the field to go and talk to the farmer. My translator called after me “Don’t go in there you could get shot” but it all happened in a second and I called back to him “come on I need you to translate” .
Upon reaching a surprised farmer I asked him many questions and talked to him about the affects of Heroin and also the possibilities of Pomegranates.
He explained to me about his family , children, how he lived and why he grew opium. I explained how it was possible for him to change his situation working together with other farmers and how this would help the people of Afghanistan and the rest of the world.
He agreed with what was said and POM354 was born. 'Pomegranate is The Answer' is the first ever pictures showing the start of POM354.
Delivering the sign
It was clear that we could not discuss in detail POM354 there and then in the fields and I told the farmer I would return soon to continue our discussions.
One month later I traveled back to Afghanistan to see the farmer and myself and Aziz visited his home where we finalized our talks. The farmer informed us that the land he had was shared with sixteen families and that all the farmers wanted to be involved.
Back in the UK I started putting things in place whilst in Peshawar we had a sign made to put in the farmers fields.
In December 2007 I returned to Afghanistan and took the sign to the farmers.
In January 2008, I was interviewed on Afghanistan Television about POM354, what I was planning to do in Afghanistan and how Pomegranates could help .
After leaving the television studios in Jalalabad various farmers asked me to help them change their fields from poppies to pomegranates.
There was a gathering on the original farmers land where I did a speech and the farmers signed up to POM354 with an official from the Afghanistan Foreign Office.
It was clear to me that POM354 was now wanted by the farmers of Afghanistan and I went to talk about it with Mr Shinwari who is a member of parliament and a respected Elder in the Tribal system.
We decided it was time to call a Jirga.
A Jirga is a private gathering of the Tribal Elders from the various Tribes in Afghanistan. It is a very serious event where important decisions are made that affect all the people in the Tribes. We decided the Jirga would cover the whole of Nangarhar Province and 200 Tribal Elders were invited.
I was to give a speech and then let the Tribal Elders decide if they accepted POM354. It was the first time this had been done and it was going to be a big event.
Nangarhar Jirga 26th March 2008
On 26th March 2008 The Jirga took place. Although 200 Tribal elders were invited 400 came.
Mr Shinwari's speech.
The Jirga was an all day event and Mr Shinwari and myself gave speeches about the benefits of POM354 to Afghanistan and the International Community.
James Brett's speech.
Once we had conducted our speeches eleven other Tribal Elders gave there views on POM354 and what the positive or negative implications of POM354 could be.
After all the public speaking had taken place the Tribal Elders had their own discussions to decide whether they were going to agree to POM354.
After about two hours Mr Shinwari, one of the other most respected Tribal Elders, and myself had a private meeting where they informed me the Tribal Elders had accepted that POM354 was a positive Initiative and that they wished POM354 to be implemented throughout the whole of Nangarhar Province.
Mr Shinwari informed me that this was the first time all the Tribal Elders of Nangarhar Province had agreed to finish poppy cultivation and use another crop as an Alternative Livelihood, that the population of Nangarhar Province was 1.3 million people and that 2009 would be the first poppy free year in Nangarhar Province for 100 years.
He said the Tribal Elders had made this decision not only because they realized how a maintained level of stability could be achieved in Nangarhar Province but also because they believed me as I was the first person that had ever come to see them who was just a normal person that wanted to see positive change.
Now that the decision was made we then went to the original farmers fields and conducted an official opening ceremony of POM354 by planting the first Pomegranate tree sapling.
Mr Shinwari and myself said a few words about what the planting of the Pomegranate tree symbolized and how Afghanistan and the International community united would end the illicit Heroin trade.