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 and Crime.
“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 Balkh farmer.
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
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
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 aid.
"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
Daoud said, however, that efforts to wipe out crops in eastern
provinces had been more successful because local officials acted
He maintained that authorities had actually eradicated more acreage
this year than last, but could give no concrete figures.
By late May, raw opium sales were well under way in Balkh. Some
farmers said deals were being made openly, but authorities denied
"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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