From: Michael Wilson (MWILSON/0005514706at_private)
Date: Thu Nov 27 1997 - 16:00:03 PST

  • Next message: Michael Wilson: "[IWAR] ISRAEL atmosphere of hate"

                 Opium farmers hooked on profits despite government ban
          Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net
          Copyright ) 1997 Reuters
       LASHKAR-GHA, Afghanistan (November 27, 1997 10:47 a.m. EST
       http://www.nando.net) - Seeds for half the world's 1998 opium harvest
       are already germinating in the fields of Afghanistan despite pledges by
       the country's Taliban authorities to eradicate opium poppy cultivation.
       For the moment, at least, farmers in Helmand province in southwestern
       Afghanistan -- the country's richest opium-growing area -- are not as
       worried about a government ban on their crop as they are that birds will
       eat the poppy seeds they have just planted.
       Strips of white plastic tied to stakes flutter in a cool breeze along
       the perimeter of Haji Agha Mohamed's two small plots outside
       And, just in case the pennants are not enough to frighten the birds
       away, he has assigned two of his younger sons to act as human scarecrows
       by scampering about the fields.
       "We have sown the seeds. There is nothing to do over the winter except
       to protect the crop," said the 60-year-old farmer.
       If all goes well, Haji Agha and members of his family will move through
       the field next June scarring ripe opium bulbs with special knives and
       scraping off the gum which oozes out.
       The raw opium will then be sold to local traders and smuggled over a
       labyrinth of trails into neighbouring Pakistan, Iran and Turkmenistan by
       camel, donkey, truck and on foot.
       Dried and refined into heroin in laboratories along the way, most of the
       product will end up in Europe, the United States or Pakistan, where
       there is a large addict population.
       A small tenant farmer with 23 dependants, Haji Agha cleared $5,000 on
       his 1997 opium crop -- a good living in a country where the average per
       capita income is $100 annually. As a result, he planted even more land
       in opium poppy for next year.
       The United Nations' new drug czar, Pino Arlacchi, whose reputation as a
       crime fighter springs from successful battles against the mafia in his
       native Italy, plans to stamp out opium production in Afghanistan over
       five years, and around the world in 10.
       "In Afghanistan it is a matter of helping the Taleban do something they
       want to do anyway as strict Moslems," Arlacchi, director of the U.N.
       International Drug Control Programme, told reporters during a visit to
       Helmand this week.
       "The key is to mobilise resources from the international community to
       provide farmers with the irrigation, seed, fertiliser and machinery they
       need to raise alternative crops."
       Foreign reluctance to invest in a country still divided and at war,
       grave reservations about the Taleban's human rights record and
       resistance from well-entrenched criminal elements make Arlacchi's plan a
       long shot at best.
       Anxious to convert sceptics, Arlacchi points out that Helmand was once
       Afghanistan's breadbasket, by virtue of a massive irrigation system
       built by the United States in the 1960s. Thanks to the Cold War, what
       had been desert suddenly sprouted with wheat, cotton, vegetables and
       While opium poppy was always grown in Helmand and elsewhere in
       Afghanistan, U.N. officials say it was a minor crop until war and
       drought disrupted supplies from the Golden Triangle in southeast Asia in
       the 1970s.
       When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, anti-communist
       mujahideen fighters turned to opium cultivation and heroin production to
       help finance their holy Islamic war.
       In Helmand, neglect and nearly two decades of war -- first against the
       Russians and then among Afghan factions -- have left the once
       magnificent irrigation system in a shambles.
       The main Bughra Canal is clogged with silt and many of its sluice gates
       are damaged and inoperative, as are subsidiary canals and ditches
       distributing water to individual plots.
       The corps of engineers and technicians who once managed the province's
       intricate water system no longer exists.
       But with the Taleban ruling 80 percent of Afghanistan's land area and
       disposed to ban opium as a matter of Islamic principle, Arlacchi hopes
       to make a prohibition on poppy cultivation practical by providing
       farmers with an economic carrot.
       Haji Agha is ready. "Repairing our irrigation system is the main thing
       because right now it is dry in the summer and I can only grow one crop,"
       he explained.
       "With water and better seed and some machines and fertiliser, I could
       plant two crops every year. I would grow wheat or cotton or maize, not
       opium. I could plant more land and make more money with less work."
       -- By Kurt Schork, Reuters

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Apr 13 2001 - 12:54:21 PDT