Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's opiates and 90 percent of the world's opium.
Not only does this trade exacerbate a global drug crisis, but it also provides Taliban and insurgent groups between $100 million and $400 million per year. It is estimated that 80 percent of personnel at the Ministry of Interior benefit from the drug trade, and Afghan officials even believe that 100,000 members of the Afghan government gain from the trade--whether it be from transportation fees, bribes or profits.
Even highway police are believed to be involved in facilitating and taxing smuggling.
At times, they themselves transport the drugs in government law enforcement vehicles.
An increasingly lawless Afghanistan, riddled with corruption at all levels of government and police, has led the way to an explosion of poppy cultivation.
Tackling the ongoing and growing opium trade in Afghanistan must be a priority for American policymakers. The current U.S. strategy is to train and aid Afghan forces to conduct a mass eradication campaign by force, which has proved to be ineffective.
The Afghan Eradication Force was created in 2005 with the help of United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the US State Department. The troops consist of police drawn from Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior. On occasion these eradicators have been ambushed by Taliban forces and even targeted by suicide bombers.
Eradication is not working.
In fact, last month, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, stated that the $800 million the US spends per year on counter-narcotics is "wasteful and ineffective."
In June of 2005, the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund was established through the United Nations Development Programme to provide additional resources to implement the policies of the National Drug Control Strategy of the Afghan government. The CNTF has, among other things, been promoting a system of subsidies to encourage "poppy-free provinces." The U.S. has been responsible for 75 percent of the funds pledged for so called "performance incentives." According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, 98 percent of farmers said they would be ready to stop poppy cultivation "should access to alternative livelihoods be provided," and many farmers were eager to receive a portion of those subsidies.
In 2007, this system seemed promising: 13 out of a total of 34 provinces became poppy free. Unfortunately, in many instances, provinces that claimed poppy-free status substituted poppies with cannabis, another illicit crop that propagates drug trade, while truly poppy-free provinces did not receive subsidies at all.
Eradication is difficult because it threatens the livelihoods of many Afghan farmers who simply cultivate out of necessity.
In fact, many farmers cultivate poppies in order to pay off a loan-in-kind from the previous year. It is common for moneylenders to charge usurious rates or conduct other forms of intimidation such as simply kidnapping family members of defaulters ( usually daughters ). At any given point in time, farmers are reliant upon loans at staggeringly high interest rates and have loans taken out in advance for the next season's harvest.
If they choose to abandon poppy cultivation, they will still have to pay for that loan they already took out, without any of next season's profits.
The welfare of these farmers must be the primary concern of the international community if it intends to end the drug trade in Afghanistan, which benefits insurgency and Taliban forces.
Their attraction to poppy is simply a matter of convenience--it is a high value crop, with profits estimated at around $5,200 per hectare, and trade routes are already established. A substitute crop, which provides an equal or better livelihood for farmers, must be introduced.
The ideal substitutable crop is saffron.
As a result of being one of the most expensive spices in the world, saffron has been nicknamed "red gold." It is high-profit, low-risk, and suitable to climatic conditions. Western Afghanistan has a long history of growing the best saffron in the world.
In fact, trials of saffron growing in the Herat province, bordering Iran, have beaten the international record for most productive yield--on average $5,000 per hectare annually and even up to $8,000. The statistics make saffron a higher value crop than cannabis, with the potential to exceed profits accrued through poppy cultivation.
In order to make this substitution of saffron feasible, donor nations, led by the United States, must provide funding in order to provide corms ( saffron seeds ) to farmers.
In addition, organizations such as International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas must be brought in to train Afghans on proper farming techniques for saffron, so that they can grow a successful and profitable crop. The U.S. must adopt this policy of crop substitution in order to increase national security, reduce drug trade, and increase stability in Afghanistan.
Author: Sonali Pillay
Pubdate: Sun, 05 Apr 2009
Source: Columbia Daily Spectator (Columbia, NY Edu)