The snow-capped mountains of Khost in the Hindu Kush have sheltered and cursed the local populace for millennia, but new supply chains from remote areas to the city have opened up a business selling snow in scorching temperatures, providing a livelihood for thousands of people.
Ayoub Mangal sells snow in the centre of Khost City. Every winter men and women in his village dig a ditch, fill it with snow and then cover it in tarpaulin and leaves. When the dry summer season arrives, Mangal hires a small truck and sells the snow in the city as a cheap alternative to ice. Once an empoverished wood cutter, Mangal now runs a chain of businesses he financed through the selling of snow. “Since starting the snow business we have changed our lives and have now paved the way to invest in other profitable businesses,” he told Afghanistan Today, an experience shared by many others involved in the booming economic sector.
Nearly one in five young residents in Khost work in the snow retailing or storage business, according to a study conducted by the province’s Directorate of Labour and Social Affairs. Hazartullah, one of hundreds, if not thousands, of operatives in the trade, says better transport has allowed villagers in remote areas, who have stored snow for centuries, to get their stored snow to the city quicker and thus the boom.
“We used to transport the snow to the city by camel and donkey, but now we have a Kamaz truck which makes it very easy to get to the city in no time,” says the 40-year old from Musakhel district, one of the most remote regions in Khost. Hazartullah explains that in the past the snow would melt before it could reach the city and villagers in far-flung areas could only sell wood at a cut price in the city to make a meagre living.
With temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius in Khost in summer, mass distribution of snow used to be the privilege of businessmen who could afford storage facilities. “In the past our truck would be parked in one part of town for weeks and the business was slow municipal taxes were high. So the snow would just melt,” says Hazartullah, explaining the sudden boom in snow sales. “Now we have struck a deal with the local cart pullers and rickshaw drivers to transport the snow to crowded areas of the city.”
The snow salesmen sell their blocks of snow much cheaper than ice and ice factories, which have much higher costs, have sought protective measures from the local government. “There is a standard for positive business competition in the rest of the world, but in Khost province we don’t have such standards,” says the owner of Khost-based Bahram Ice Production, 25 year-old Asghar. The government have not yet intervened, allowing the market to regulate itself, which could pose an existential threat to Asghar’s industry: “The snow dealers bring ice and sell it at the lowest prices so all customers want snow rather than ice and we are slowly going out of business.”
Customers seem divided on the ice v snow debate. Some complain that snow melts too easily, while others appreciate the cheap price. “The ice producers are using dirty buckets for the ice production, whereas the snow is natural and clean,” says Jawhar, a fan of the snow.
While ice factory owners sweat at the competition, snow sales continue to rise, despite customers complaining of the snow melting too fast. Hazartullah says he can sell a small truck of ice in a day now: each truck generates between 250,000 (4,000 USD approx) and 350,000 afghani )5,600 USD approx), with 50,000 afghani being paid per truck in tax to the local government. On average, Hazartullah says he can make more than 50,000 USD dollars in total revenue per season.
Qasim Jan, another business owner, in the same field says he has managed to invest in a clothes store and a cement production unit since he started selling snow. Now he can afford to move his family to the city and develop his businesses. His secret? Nothing special, says Qasim: “Snow is something that we don’t have to pay for and with a little hard work I think it can provide a safe business for anyone,” he says.