Focus on local efforts to reduce opium cultivation
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]
NANGAHAR, 10 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - The streets and
bazaar in Khogyani, a town in the eastern province of
Nangarhar, are empty these days. Scattered groups of
young men idle away the hours playing cards while
others stare into space outside their mud-brick
Khogyani, which was once one of the chief
opium-producing districts in the entire eastern
region, seems to have fallen on hard times. The reason
is that most local farmers have heeded the president's
call to desist from opium production and have turned
away from the lucrative plant in order to grow other
crops. On hectare after hectare of fields surrounding
the town, the red of poppy has given way to green
shoots of spring wheat.
"We obeyed [President Hamid] Karzai's orders and we
will not cultivate poppy this year, but lets see if he
is firm on his promises to the nation," Sadookhan, a
55-year-old peasant farmer in Khogyani, told IRIN.
ALTERNATIVES TO GROWING POPPY
Instead, Sadookhan has signed up for a
food-for-work initiative organised by the World Food
Programme (WFP) to learn how to cultivate alternatives
to the poppy. "I will be paid in wheat and will also
harvest wheat this year," said Sadookhan.
Other WFP sponsored schemes in the region involve
training local people to grow fruit trees.
"Last year only a few people attended our nursery
training but with the ban on poppy cultivation the
demand is very high and we cannot meet demand,"
Mohammad Tahir, a project officer of the local aid
agency Hewad told IRIN. It was Hewad that implemented
a WFP nursery project in the nearby village
Karzai has tried various tactics to wean Afghans
off the crop. At his inauguration late last year he
appealed to national and religious pride, held out the
carrot of international aid and the stick of crop
destruction in an effort to persuade hundreds of
village and tribal leaders to curb poppy cultivation
Last year Afghanistan provided more than 80 percent
of the world's illicit opium, with a record number of
farmers cultivating the poppies the drug is derived
from. There is a serious lack of alternative
livelihoods in rural areas and it's hard to see the
example of Khogyani catching on.
But officials in Jalalabad, the provincial capital
of Nangarhar, said they hoped to lead the nation by
example and expected to see a significant reduction in
poppy cultivation this year.
"Many farmers are not cultivating poppy and others
have destroyed the [poppy] crop themselves after the
decision of Nangarhar elders," Haji Din Mohammad,
Nangarhar governor, told IRIN in the provincial
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF OBEYING THE LAW
Turning away from poppy cultivation will have an
impact on the entire economy of the region, local
businessmen say. Ahmad Sabour is a 25-year-old
shopkeeper who used to sell electricity produced by
his Chinese-made generator.
"Last year people used to pay 500 Afs [US $10] per
month but now at night the entire village is dark and
no one wants electricity," he said.
For the farmers themselves, the financial losses
incurred by this leap of faith will be even worse.
Sabour earned around 250,000 Afs (US $45,000) last
year from his poppy crop but he will be lucky to net
$200 from turning his land over to wheat.
"With last year's money, I could pay for the school
for my children and save some with a view to starting
some other trade, like a small shop," said Sabour.
Other farmers interviewed by IRIN said that poppy
eradication programmes in the province had indicated
the government was serious about reducing the crop and
that it was better to grow something that would yield
a small profit rather than go with poppy and then have
all the crop destroyed later
in the year.
Officials in Kabul are happy to see such
developments in places like Nangahar but insist they
will not be sustainable unless rural jobs and
infrastructure are boosted.
"We have to think carefully about alternative
livelihoods. Either we find jobs for those cultivating
opium or we will try to manage the water better and
help them with irrigation so that the cost of growing
something else comes down," Habibullah Qaderi,
minister for counter narcotics, told IRIN in Kabul.
"We have proposed to government 19 programmes to
address alternative livelihoods. If they are funded
and take place this year, I think there will be no
poppies and no tension," Din Mohammad noted.
FOREIGN ASSISTANCE TO DEVELOP ALTERNATIVES
Din Mohammad said that after talks in the capital,
Kabul, with the US and British ambassadors and foreign
donors, they were satisfied that alternative
livelihoods would be provided for farmers.
"The people of Nangarhar prove that they are firm
in their decision [to refrain from growing poppies]
and hope the international community is serious in
their assistance and promises for the poor farmers,"
The governor was quick to add that the decision had
been a difficult one to make, as tens of thousands of
people in the province were jobless with few roads,
clinics, schools. Farmers said that wheat cultivation
alone, given the primitive methods available, would
not be enough to sustain them and their families.
The reduction in cultivation in Nangahar followed a
series of pledges of support by international donors
but so far not much has been achieved. Temporary job
creation has been introduced in the southern province
of Helmand, where 9,000 people are employed in canal
clearance - key to improving irrigation.
In Nangarhar, Din Mohammad said the US Agency for
International Development (USAID) would soon start
some projects. The UK Department for International
Development (DFID) is planning to start a similar work
project in another big opium producing region, the
northeastern province of Badakhshan.
But Din Mohammad said US distribution of 500 mt of
wheat seeds in Nangarhar, barely enough for less than
10 percent of farmers, was clearly inadequate.
"This year is very sensitive, the central
government and the international community should not
lose the trust of people by going back on decisions to
help us and show their seriousness in terms of
assistance. We are doing our bit and it is hurting us,
donors must do there bit," he emphasised.
LIVING WITHOUT POPPY
In front of the Afghan National Army (ANA)
recruitment centre in Nangarhar hundreds of young men,
mostly former poppy growers, line up to join the new
fledging US-supported force. While hundreds have been
recruited, officials said 4,000 more are on the
standby list because of high demand. ANA
officials in Nangarhar said very few people had
taken any interest in the past. Clearly potential
recruits had previously been busy in the opium
"Almost every eligible man in our village have come
here to join the army as there is no poppy anymore,"
Sayed Zuhak, an ex-poppy grower, told IRIN as he stood
in the queue waiting for an ANA interview.
The decision to stop growing opium is likely to
have other short-term repercussions, local people
said. Officials warned the decision would create
tension as many people had already borrowed cash
against future opium production.
"There is a strong possibility of mass
displacement, clashes or killings because there is no
poppy to pay the loans back," Din Mohammad warned. He
called on government to create a fund to settle loans
taken out by prospective opium growers.
"We also need small loans for farmers as it is very
difficult to get any profit from just growing wheat."
In Helmand several serious disputes over opium
poppy loans have taken place this year. According to
officials in Helmand, people have to sell their land
or leave the area in fear of the dealers who have lent
cash to poor farmers against future harvests. Others
have used the product itself as currency and now have
no way of settling the debt.
"I borrowed 20 kg of opium to pay as dowry for my
wedding as required by tradition, last year, but this
year with no poppy I don't know how to pay the loan
back," Mohammad Wali, a 25-year-old peasant farmer,
told IRIN in Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand province.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.