Thursday, March 24, 2011

THE POPPY CROP

This year's crop of poppies are about an inch high in Oruzgan - and the farmers are predicting a boom crop.

This story's about the completely ineffective 'war on drugs' . . .


BOOMING OPIUM CROP IN AUSTRALIAN PROVINCE
UN Sources in Kabul insist that, despite the deployment of Australian troops in the province since 2006, Or├╝zgan will produce more opium this year than at any time since the international intervention started. More than 9,000 hectares is now devoted to opium poppies and the province produces nearly eight percent of the drugs originating in Afghanistan.

Officials working for the UN say the Australian army has a policy of not destroying the crop, and this is why the region is set for a bumper harvest of opium poppies. Asserting that the province could jump to become the area producing the third largest amount of opium in the country, they also insist the drug will certainly remain the largest cash crop produced in the area.

They insist that, despite Australia’s official stance against the drug trade, the army has quietly turned a blind-eye to the production and done nothing in the past to stop the poppy fields blossoming around the army base at Tarin Kowt. Because of this the official was not prepared to be personally identified, nevertheless other sources have confirmed the story when the claim was put to them.

The UN official claims that the soldiers are very aware of what was being grown right under their noses. “Hey, when your boys see those fields full of poppies, they surely don’t think they’re being grown for cut flowers”, he said. “You can freely buy this stuff (the raw ingredients of opium) in the market just down the road from the base at TK”.

In the middle of last year, farmers in Deh Rawud, a fragile area at the edge of Australian control, voluntarily stopped cultivating poppies. However analysts say that the locals are now unhappy because they feel they weren’t rewarded for changing to other crops. It’s understood that this year, many have announced their intention to return to poppy farming.

Through a translator, a headman from the local area describes many people’s anger towards the Australians and their own government. “Why should we stop growing poppies when the soldiers allow other farmers to grow them right outside their own base. I believe these farmers are paying them (the Australians) to be allowed to do it.”

Although the wilder claims, such the taking of bribes by Australian soldiers, remain completely unsubstantiated and extremely unlikely, locals find it difficult to explain why no action has been taken against those growing poppies under the diggers noses. As a result, perceptions have grown in the outlying parts of the province that the Australians are supporting, or at least condoning, the production of drugs.

Many villagers allege that a strongman the diggers are particularly close to, Matiullah Khan, is widely known to be heavily involved in the drug trade. Matiullah provides gunmen who guarantee the security of the roads – at a price. This also provides a perfect opportunity for him to control the transit of drugs at the same time.

Observers who’ve recently returned from the area say opium production normally takes up more than half the capacity of the fields around the Australian base at Tarin Kowt. As the snows of winter melt and the ground becomes productive, it’s anticipated these ideal growing conditions will lead to a bumper harvest in the coming year.

Poor security on the roads has also worked against the production of other cash-crops. Getting alternative produce to markets in the region is often so difficult that locals will abandon the attempt. Other crops, such as almonds for example, normally take at least five years to show even a meagre return. These long gestation periods waiting for a crop to be established have also led farmers to concentrate on the easier profits coming from the drug trade.

Other farmers have chosen to cut back on plantings of alternative crops because of lower global prices. At one time saffron, for example, would return $3,300 per kilo. Today, in part because Iranian production of the seeds has soared, it brings just over $2,000.

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