Opium Farmers Return to Their Only Cash Crop

Opium Farmers Return to Their Only Cash Crop
Posted by FoM on November 26, 2001 at 08:38:36 PT
By Tim Weiner
Source: New York Times
Come spring, the poppies will be blooming in Afghanistan again. "This is the time for planting," said Abdul Wakil, a 54-year-old farmer. "This year, 400 families here in the village will cultivate it. We take the opium and put it in a bag. Then we search for customers at the Friday bazaar.""There is no other way to survive," he added. "I have 10 children. There are 28 people in my house." There is nothing to do here except farming, and there is not enough profit in wheat or corn to make a living, the farmers say. There is only one way  to cultivate poppies and get the money.
The Taliban are gone from here. So is their ban on growing opium poppies. Afghanistan's production of raw opium fell from a world-record peak of more than a million pounds in 1999 to a mere 40,600 pounds this year, a 96 percent decline, according to the United Nations Drug Control Program.Say what one will about the Taliban, they just said no to poppies, imprisoning farmers who defied them. But now, barring an unexpected turn of events, Afghanistan can be expected to regain its status as the world's leading source of heroin in a year or two.In late April, the children will slit the flowers' fat bulbs and scrape the ooze into a sack. Buyers will pay the farmers $100 or more per pound, at least one hundred times what fruits and vegetables will bring.Then thousands of tons of opium will be hauled by trucks, taxis and mules over the mountains to Pakistan. Refiners will turn it into hundreds of thousands of pounds of heroin worth billions of dollars to millions of addicts all over the world."This is my message to the world," Mr. Wakil said. "Help us establish industries in Afghanistan. We are tough people, hard workers, and we would happily quit the cultivation of poppy. But here there are no industries, no factories, nothing, and we need to take the money from the one remaining source."The economics of opium in Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest nations, are so stark as to defy argument. Aubaidullah, a 22-year-old farmer in Kherabad who is sowing poppy seeds, explained them well.He said he planted one hectare, about 2.5 acres, of poppy last year and turned a profit of $13,000, allowing him to feed 15 people in his extended family and buy two new oxen to plow his fields. If he had planted wheat and vegetables on that land, he might have made $100, he said. Furthermore, Afghanistan has gone through a four-year drought, and poppies need far less water than vegetables or grain."A lot of people under the Taliban tried to plant corn and wheat, and they had to leave the country because of their debts," said Aubaidullah, who only uses one name. "If you plant poppy, the buyers will lend you the money you expect to reap from your crop in advance, at planting time."Shamshul Haq has the unenviable job of deputy chief drug-control officer in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, the second-leading opium producing province during the 1990's. His duties have become unclear under the new self-proclaimed government in eastern Afghanistan, the Eastern Shura. A chief official of the new ministry of law and order, Sorhab Qadri, said today that "the top authorities have not yet decided whether to let the farmers continue cultivating poppies."Nangarhar had nearly 50,000 acres planted in poppy in 2000. That was enough to produce roughly a quarter of a million pounds of heroin base, Mr. Haq said, and represented 85 percent or more of all farm income in the province. That fell to less than 540 acres in the two growing seasons of 2001, a nearly 99 percent decline. But Mr. Haq said poppy planting is soaring now in Afghanistan."Nothing is done for the farmers to show them why they should not grow poppy," Mr. Haq said. "Without a lot of help from the world community, they will grow it not only in their fields but on the roofs and in their flowerpots."The Taliban's ban on poppy cultivation in no way meant a ban on opium sales, farmers and dealers say. Nearly a year's supply had been stashed away. "We have a lot of people with opium in warehouses," said Mr. Wakil, the farmer. "It doesn't have an expiration date."In a hole in the wall deep in the Jalalabad bazaar, surrounded by currency traders and tea shops, Gul Zaman conducts his opium business. Business is good, he said with a smile. It has been good for two years straight."There never was a ban on selling under the Taliban  just cultivation," he said.Although wholesale prices plummeted from about $400 a pound to about $150 a pound after the Taliban fell, they will rebound, for the warehouse supplies that kept things running this year are almost dry now, Mr. Zaman said. If the middlemen ever run out, he has plenty of his own land planted with poppies.He said he can sell up to 2,500 pounds of opium base on a good day. That will produce about 275 pounds of heroin. On an average day, he has 600 to 700 pounds of opium sales."The Taliban regime was the first in the history of Afghanistan to stop the cultivation of poppy," he said. "It simply isn't possible for anyone except the Taliban to stop it. They had real power. The present regime does not."Complete Title: With Taliban Gone, Opium Farmers Return to Their Only Cash CropNewshawk: puff_tuffSource: New York Times (NY) Author: Tim WeinerPublished: November 26, 2001Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Forum: Related Articles:Time Running Out in The Opium War War on Terror Meets a War on Drugs Friends in Afghanistan
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