Science, Tech & Environment

Afghan farmers and the opium trade

This northwestern province in Afghanistan is now a success story in the effort to combat drug cultivation. The government claims it's completely eliminated opium production, but unfortunately not much else is growing well either. This family is picking through their cotton crop, which has not grown well�they're only half the size of what is needed to make a profit. Droughts and a hot summer have devastated Afghanistan's legal crops, especially wheat. There may be severe shortages for bread this winter. This man depends on rain to irrigate his field because his well is so low, so anything he plants is a gamble. But it's decision time because winter wheat and opium have the same growing seasons: plant in the fall and harvest in the spring. With the price of wheat at an all time high, it seems like an easy decision, but the government isn't very popular right now among these farmers. the governor of this province doesn't disagree with those complaints and says international aid for counter-narcotics isn't reaching out here. he says other problems include a bad infrastructure to support rural farmers. this analyst working in the region points out that other countries in the region have cheaper systems of production and as such Afghan farmers can't compete. 30 years ago Afghanistan could feed itself and even export some food items but to do that today would mean rebuilding the agricultural infrastructure. Afghans might again export fruits or seeds, but for now the only crop with a complete infrastructure is opium poppies. One farmer says you don't need to irrigate poppies and the dealers come to your door and give you cash, not to mention loans in advance. The farmer says he knows it's wrong but if the current situation doesn't improve, there's not much option. Meanwhile in the south of Afghanistan, the poppy trade is still booming, which the authorities say fuels the war because the poppy trade benefits the Taliban.

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