Pubdate: Sun, 24 Aug 2008
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2008 The Observer
Author: Jason Burke
HELMAND'S FIELDS YIELD A BUMPER OPIUM HARVEST
New figures from the United Nations to be released this week are set
to reveal that opium production in the southern regions of Afghanistan
has soared. The worst affected province is Helmand, where 7,000
British soldiers are deployed. Officials are likely to stress
successes in the north and east of the country, where the number of
provinces free of poppy is set to rise. Last year 13 provinces across
the country were declared free of opium cultivation - largely in the
relatively secure north.
However, there are fears that extreme hardship caused by drought and
long-standing deep poverty in the newly poppy-free zones may threaten
'In the north, where there is a degree of legitimate government and
political leadership, poppy production has been dropping,' said
Christina Oguz, representative in Afghanistan for the UN Office on
Drugs and Crime. 'But the severe drought after a harsh winter means
that, if we are to sustain the downward train, much more needs to be
Oguz said it was critical that the Afghan government and the
international community 'show that they will ensure food supplies and
massive and targeted long and short-term development' areas where
farmers decided not to plant poppy last year. 'I am not sure that is
going to happen,' she said in an interview in Kabul.
Recent improvements in the eastern province of Nangarhar, once a major
growing area, are also threatened. Last year local and central
government persuaded farmers and tribal elders not to plant poppies
and promised development projects.
'We did not plant opium last year because the government banned it and
said we would get dams, roads and jobs,' said Zarjan Adalkhel
Shinwari, a local elder. 'People are wavering. We need the money and
none of their promises have been fulfilled. But it is illegal.'
Planting usually starts in October. In the 2006-2007 season,
Afghanistan produced 8,200 tonnes of opium, a record.
A second worrying development is the growing 'professionalisation' of
local drugs production, with mobile laboratories increasingly
manufacturing high-quality heroin within Afghanistan. Previously,
opium was turned into heroin outside the country. 'Most of the labs
which were round here have gone down to the south,' said Shinwari.
In Helmand province, the extension of agricultural land that has been
the result of recent development work has allowed further opium production.
However, the poppy harvest has been affected by a glut on the market
which has lowered the price paid 'at the fa rm gate' and high global
wheat prices which have made other crops more attractive.