Vice Squad
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Afghan Opium

Greetings from Senegal. Apologies for the blogging break, but I am afraid it will continue until Monday. In the meantime, let me note an article by Christian Parenti in The Nation (January 24, 2005) on poppy production in Afghanistan. The article suggests (among other things) that the impending US crackdown on the Afghan opium crop is likely to harm the security situation. Here's an excerpt, taken from a web-based version of the article available at (sorry, can't provide links from this terminal):
"It costs 1,000 rupees to plant one jerib of poppy, and that one jerib will yield at least 15 kilograms of poppy, which is worth 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000], at least," says a farmer named Lal Mohammed. (Later in the central highlands, some farmers tell me they can get 28 kilos of opium per jerib.) "Wheat takes twice as long as poppy to grow, and we can buy almost ten times as much wheat as we could produce if we grow poppy instead," says Mohammed. "We have no choice but to grow poppy."

To top it all off, Afghanistan is in the midst of a hellacious six-year drought. Unlike wheat and vegetables or cotton, poppy is very drought-resistant. "All it really needs is a little water early on," says Mohammed.

The farmers confirm what I've heard elsewhere: The opium boom of the past three years has delivered many farmers from onerous debts and allowed them to keep land that they would otherwise have been forced to sell off to the local mujahedeen commanders.

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