Drugs are bad. We get it. Sometimes you got to grow what you got to grow.
Via NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/11/13/245040114/afghan-farmers-opium-is-the-only-way-to-make-a-living
Lashkar Gah is the capital of the volatile province that alone grows half of Afghanistan's opium poppy. Cultivation here grew by 34 percent over last year.
On Fridays, hundreds of men gather at the bazaar along the Helmand River, the lifeblood of this arid province. Vendors sell everything from livestock to boxes of artisanal medicine.
There's no sign of poppy here. In fact, the farmers we talk to like 26-year-old Khairullah, who goes by one name, say they are actually too poor to grow it.
"It requires a lot of effort to grow, and you have to wait a long time to harvest," he says.
Khariullah says he barely gets by growing legal crops and he can't afford the extra labor and risk to cultivate poppy. Others here agree, adding that poppy is the main source of insecurity. But, it's not hard to find farmers who do grow it.
We drive across the city and down a quiet residential street of tan brick compounds. We stop and 27-year-old Abdullah hops in the car. It's not safe to visit his village, so he came to the city to meet us.
Abdullah says his family has been farming opium poppies for more than 20 years. He says they can't make a living any other way.
"The major source of income for people in Helmand is opium," he says.
Abdullah says his family grows about 150 pounds and make about $9,000 a year, which is four times what they can make from any other crop.
"We understand that opium is bad," he says. "All drugs are bad. But, it's difficult for us seeing a neighbor with a new car when we are riding bicycles. So, we have to do this to have a better life."
Abdullah admits it's a gamble. One year, he had a crop that was chest-high and ready for harvesting. He went to town one morning, and when he came home, the field had been leveled by the government workers eradicating opium poppies.
Abdullah, who is attending law school and hopes to someday get out of the poppy business, says this year's harvest was excellent.
released Wednesday confirms Abdullah's assessment. The report said opium poppy cultivation hit a record level this year despite the ongoing efforts by Western countries and the Afghan government to reduce production and find alternatives for farmers.
Few Options For Farmers
About six miles outside of Lashkar Gah, past brown fields and mud houses, is the government compound of Nad Ali district.
Fifteen Afghan farmers with creased, leathery faces sit in the meeting hall. Sharifullah, who also gives only one name, says that in addition to corn, cotton, and potatoes, they also grow opium, which the farmers don't hesitate to admit in front of government officials.
"That is because for the rest of our product we have no market," he says. "We can't export [our crops] and get a good price for them. We can't even sustain our families."
Sharifullah says they don't grow opium in the district, but rather on the outskirts in the desert.
More at link.
Well, here's a radical suggestion. Buy the stuff. Morphine is always needed and is bloody expensive. It'd give Afghanistan a solid and reliable export, the farmers some measure of stability and a better income, and raise enough money to work on the infrastructure.