Afghan farmers find alternative to opium: marijuana
September 27, 2007
BALKH, Afghanistan (Reuters) – As Afghanistan struggles to cut its
raging opium production, aid workers try to find alternative crops, but
for some former poppy farmers the choice was easy — they planted
Afghanistan’s opium crop topped all records this year, producing some 93
percent of the world’s supply of the drug.
But while there has been a sharp rise in poppy production in the
troubled south, the drug crop has been eliminated in a growing number of
provinces in the safer north of the country.
Balkh province in the north was trumpeted as a success story — from
7,000 hectares of poppies cultivated in 2006, it was declared opium-free
in 2007 after strong local government action.
But around the ancient citadel of Balkh, in fields where pink poppy
flowers stood last year, jagged green marijuana stalks poke above other
crops and in places whole cannabis fields produce a pungent aroma strong
enough to be picked by passing motorists.
The farmers are still cautious. “They are not my fields,” said
Shamseddin, surrounded by head-high cannabis plants in full flower. “I
don’t know who they belong to,” he said, dropping a sickle to the ground
and nudging it away with his foot.
Others said they only planted marijuana to shield their cotton fields
from livestock or that it was just a trial crop.
LACK OF FUNDS
“The landlords used to plant poppy, but then the government came along
and destroyed the crops,” said farm worker Mohammad Yassin.
“This year we planted marijuana, the dealers will come and buy the crop
from us, so we’ll see what we make from it. We probably won’t plant any
Marijuana, while not as profitable as opium, still makes more money than
other legal crops.
“In order to survive and feed their families, the farmers have to
cultivate marijuana,” said Balkh drug squad chief Faiz Mohammad. “Other
crops don’t give a good profit.”
Last month the United States unveiled a carrot-and-stick strategy to
combat opium production. It plans to spend $25 million to $50 million in
the next fiscal year to reward provinces that make significant progress
The governor of Balkh, a former warlord, was credited for much of the
success in eliminating opium in his province, but has complained he has
yet to receive the promised incentives for doing so, let alone any funds
for cutting back cannabis crops.
“Every year the international community announces that it is spending
millions of dollars on counter-narcotics but we haven’t seen a dime of
that money,” the Institute of War and Peace Reporting quoted governor
Mohammad Atta as saying.
Balkh drugs squad chief Faiz Mohammad said his officers had made a start
in informing farmers they should not plant cannabis and had requested
funding from the national and local government to destroyed marijuana
fields, but it had yet to arrive.