Published on 13 Jun 2011 at 01:19
Insecurity and a growing disappointment with the government have spurred farmers in the eastern province of Nangarhar to return to poppy cultivation.
NANGARHAR – Jamilurahman, a farmer in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, swore off poppy cultivation five years ago. He believed in the government’s carrot-and-stick approach to clamping down on the illicit crop: providing farmers with alternative livelihoods on the one hand, and, on the other, eradicating crops and cracking down on traffickers.
But this year, faced with the rising cost of food, runaway unemployment, and having seen little evidence that the government was prepared to make good on its promises, he returned to his traditional crop.
“We had to grow poppy to feed our family,” he said. “We had no jobs, and food was becoming more and more expensive. We had no choice.”
According to Jamilurahman, farmers are willing to give up poppy if some alternative can be found.
“No one will grow poppy if the government provides us with jobs,” he said. “But poppy fetches a high price in the market.”
According to the United Nation Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), there are signs that poppy cultivation is increasing in Nangarhar. As the introduction to the 2011 Opium Survey stated:
“There are worrying signals which need to be carefully monitored … (such as) the increasing cultivation trends in the Western and Eastern regions, especially in Nangarhar, which, in the past, has shown its potential to be a major poppy cultivating province.”
In 2010, 719 hectares of land were planted in poppy, representing a nearly 300 percent increase over 2009, when just 292 hectares were under poppy cultivation. This year could be even higher.
There are several reasons for the rise of the illicit crop, say residents.
For one thing, the government did not pursue eradication as vigorously as it had promised.
Governor Gul Agha Sherzai had planned a comprehensive eradication campaign this year, but according to UNDOC, just 51 hectares of poppy was destroyed this year in all of Nangarhar province, or a little over 7 percent. Some have speculated that there was a deal between the government and certain tribal elders to leave the crop alone.
The governor’s spokesman, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, dismisses such allegations, but does not deny that there is more poppy in Nangarhar this year.
“There was no agreement between the Nangarhar governor and tribal elders to stop the counternarcotics campaign,” he said. “But it is true poppy cultivation has increased in the province.”
According to Abdulzai, the counternarcotics police carried out a wide anti-drug campaign from March 30 to April 30, and destroyed hundreds of poppy fields in the province.
He added that the governor, along with some tribal elders, met with the president and asked him to approve 33 infrastructure projects in Nangarhar, including the construction of dams. The president agreed, and the proposals will be implemented in the near future.
Farmers in several districts of Nangarhar report that they had a good poppy harvest this year, with little interference from the government. The forbidden flower was grown in Achin, Hisarak, Khogyani, LalPur, Pachir Wa Agam and Sherzad.
Janat Mir, a resident of Sherzad district, said that the deterioration of the security situation was largely responsible for the increase in poppy.
“People were growing wheat over the past five years,” he said. “But this year the Taliban had control over the area and the local government was unable to prevent people from growing poppy.”
The Taliban also provided a measure of protection for farmers, he added.
“The Taliban receive benefit from the poppy,” he said. “Therefore, they support local people and provide them with weapons to fight counternarcotics police.”
Ghulam Sakhi, who lives in the same village, said that the fault lies with the governor, who did not keep his promises.
“The governor said he would build a dam for irrigation but he did not,” he said. “People were upset about this and grew poppy, since it needed little water.”
Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, had been a major center for poppy cultivation and trafficking; there are several drug production labs in the province to refine opium into heroin.
Over the past five years poppy cultivation was going down. Now, with increased unemployment, drought, and the growing presence of Taliban in the region, poppy is back.
Afghanistan has recently strengthened its anti-drug laws, calling for heavy penalties to be imposed for cultivation and trafficking. According to Article 34 of the Counternarcotics Law, a person who is arrested with more than one kilogram of poppy can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Analysts say that strict enforcement of the law will help to cut down on poppy cultivation; but the government must provide alternative livelihoods if any progress is to be achieved.
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