Has Afghanistan stopped growing the opium poppy now

01:00 Tue 26th Feb 2002 |

asks admason:
A. No, despite the interim Afghan government, led by Hamid Karzai, announcing in January this year that it was banning the cultivation of the opium poppy.

The trouble is that announcing a ban and enforcing it are two different things. Many of Afghan's regional warlords and tribal chiefs are linked to the opium trade and the new government is trying to hang on to popular support.

Q. Why won't the ban be enforced

A. Afghanistan's Helmland province, the biggest opium-growing region in the world, is allowing this year's poppy crop to be harvested. According to Haji Pir Mohammed, deputy to the provincial governor, Afghanistan's new regime is too weak to prevent it happening, and they don't feel they can enforce a ban on farmers.

Q. Why
Pir Mohammed described the farmers as poor people who have spent their money planting and growing these poppies. The farmers suggested that the United Nations buy the opium in order to destroy it or use it as medicine.

Q. Why don't they
A. Too expensive. It's estimated that a buy-out in Helmland alone would cost $200 million.

Q. What's the option
Pir Mohammed suggested that the farmers should be supplied with equipment and electricity, that the irrigation systems be overhauled and other development projects should be undertaken to make it easier for the farmers to change their crop. At the moment, they earn ten times as much from the poppies as they would from wheat.

Q. Were opium poppies grown during the Taliban's reign
No. In the 1990s, opium was the largest source of income for Helmland - and the rest of Afghanistan. Then the Taliban enforced a ban on growing the opium poppy, and virtually none was grown last year. However, while the Taliban fell, the farmers were quick to replant the poppies, thereby ending the most successful anti-drug effort ever.

Q. How much opium does Afghanistan produce
In the 1990s, it became the world's main source of opium, from which heroin and morphine are made, and provides more than 70% of the world's supply.

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By Sheena Miller

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