Afghanistan, May 31, 2005 (ENS): Due to plentiful
rains earlier this year and late efforts at poppy eradication,
farmers in northern Afghanistan say they are enjoying
a bumper crop of the opium producing plant this season.
While President Hamed Karzai has called for a jihad,
or holy war, against poppy growing and an international
coalition has been carrying out its own campaign against
the drug, even some senior government officials acknowledge
that most eradication efforts have come too late and
achieved too little.
Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,200 metric tons
of raw opium last year, amounting to 87 percent of world
supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs
“This year’s rainfall has increased our
harvests over last year’s,” said Mohammad
Nazar, a farmer in the northern Balkh province, happily
showing off a fat green poppy pod.
Opium, the raw material for heroin, is produced in most
provinces of Afghanistan. While no official estimates
were available, reports suggest that this year's crop
will surpass last year's harvest.
Local farmers who heeded warnings that their poppy
crop would be eradicated and opted to grow other plants
are now sorely disappointed that they will miss out
on the profits from a lucrative harvest.
"The poppy fields have not been destroyed as people
said they would be, so those farmers who didn't plant
poppies were very sad," said Nasrullah, another
The harvest was a boon for farm workers. “I was
unemployed before the opium collection season but now
I’m working in the poppy fields making 300 to
400 afghanis a day,” said laborer Mohammad Omar.
Reports of the bumper crop come even as Karzai, during
a recent visit to the United States, rejected criticism
of his counter-narcotics effort, saying his government
had worked hard to eradicate poppy fields. Instead,
he blamed western countries for a lack of support.
According to a report published in "The New York
Times" on May 23, a U.S. State Department memo
blamed the lagging poppy eradication effort on a reluctance
on the part of Karzai and others in the Afghan government
to take on powerful warlords in the southern Kandahar
province and elsewhere.
The newspaper reported that a cable sent on May 13 from
the U.S. embassy in Kabul to Washington, said that provincial
officials and village elders had impeded the destruction
of significant acreages and that top Afghan officials,
including Karzai, had done little to overcome that resistance.
"Although President Karzai has been well aware
of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective
ground eradication program, he has been unwilling to
assert strong leadership, even in his own province of
Kandahar," said the cable drafted by embassy personnel
involved in the anti-drug efforts, two American officials
told the newspaper.
The cable also faulted Britain, which has lead responsibility
for counter narcotics assistance in Afghanistan, for
being "substantially responsible" for the
failure to eradicate more acreage. UK personnel choose
where the eradication teams work, but the cable said
that those areas were often not the main growing areas
and that the British had been unwilling to revise targets.
But Karzai rejected such criticism, saying it was part
of an effort to shift blame from the U.S., Britain and
other countries that have failed to deliver economic
"We are going to have, probably all over the country,
at least 30 percent [of] poppies reduced,” Karzai
said in an interview on CNN. "So we have done our
job. The Afghan people have done their job. Now the
international community must come and provide [an] alternative
livelihood to the Afghan people, which they have not
done so far."
"Let us stop this blame game," he added.
The harvest began here in late April. Shortly after
May 15, the Interior Ministry dispatched an eradication
team of 100 men to Balkh province. Except for some late-planted
crops, they found few plants to destroy, said farmers.
Such tardiness irritated Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad
Nur, who said the authorities should have acted sooner.
General Muhammad Daoud, deputy interior minister, cited
a lack of money and bad weather as reasons for the delay.
"The only province where we can eradicate the
poppy fields completely is Badakhshan, where the harvest
has not begun yet," said Daoud in late May.
Badakhshan is Afghanistan's northernmost province and
one of its most remote. High altitudes mean crops grow
later in the season.
According to Daoud, the provinces of Balkh, Kandahar
and Farah in the far west have been the main centers
of cultivation this year. He acknowledged that eradication
efforts started late in those provinces as well.
Daoud said, however, that efforts to wipe out crops
in eastern provinces had been more successful because
local officials acted earlier.
He maintained that authorities had actually eradicated
more acreage this year than last, but could give no
By late May, raw opium sales were well under way in
Balkh. Some farmers said deals were being made openly,
but authorities denied the claim.
"We don't have enough police, and the region is
too big, so opium is being bought and sold in the villages,"
said General Amir Hamza, Balkh's district police chief.
"Drug traffickers are said to be coming from the
southern provinces to the area, purchasing opium from
the villages and shipping it to their provinces via
routes where there are no police."
While authorities are upset at the situation, farmers
are looking forward to a prosperous year. Nor are they
likely to change crops voluntarily, many say. The average
gross income from a hectare of opium poppies was about
$US4,600 last year, and the same area planted with wheat
yielded just US$390, according to UN figures.
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