Tuesday, October 16, 2007

4.ANALYSIS: Leaving it to the US will be disastrous!

If you are one who is worried about illicit drugs afflicting your college-going children you have a profound reason to be so, as farmers in Afghanistan have began sowing seeds of what is expected to become the biggest and most lucrative opium poppy crop yet. For the poor farmers in this war-ravaged country, poppy harvests secure their livelihoods. It is however another matter that field upon field of beautiful bloom also fuels $ 400 billion worth of global trade in illicit drugs and several billion worth in arms trade.

Should Afghan farmers be held responsible for misuse of opium that has medicinal properties? Can they be dissuaded from growing poppy? They might oblige provided alternate crops are as lucrative! Researchers have burnt their fingers with alternate crops like saffron and mint, none fetching as much as US$ 122 to a kilo for poppy. For negligible input costs and a longer shelf life, poppy remains the best bet. No surprise that opium's export worth at US$ 3 billion contributes 40 per cent to Afghanistan's GDP.

Undoubtedly, there are good reasons for farmers to grow opium poppy and for the rest of the world to be uneasy at the same time. Does this not leave the world exposed to the menace of drugs? So it seems, as the political economy of a country weakened by ongoing war finds itself vulnerable to the divisive forces that exercise control over peoples' lives and livelihoods. With its growing influence, the Taliban have encouraged poppy cultivation to obtain a large part of their funding through trade in illicit narcotics.

And, they have indeed been successful as neither the $ 100 billion a year war been successful nor the piecemeal efforts to wean farmers from growing poppy. The crucial question remains: If Afghanistan were to somehow able to reduce opium production, who would benefit? The Taliban and black market entrepreneurs, whose stockpiles of opium would skyrocket in value. Thousands of Afghan peasants will plant illegal harvest, utilising guerrilla farming methods to escape eradication efforts.

It is good time for the Afghan farmers though, as the world debates its strategy to control opium growth. The crop of 2007 was up by more than one-third from 2006. It is quite likely that the current annual harvest of 8,200 tonnes, over 93 per cent of the world's harvest, will be bettered the coming year. Afghan farmers make profit but the problem is that they are producing 3,000 tonnes in excess of the global demand, fueling illicit opium trade worth US$ 20 billion....more

1 comment:

Marcus said...

I definitely agree that the opium problem should not be left to the US! They are constrained by congressional oversight, lobby groups and the policy of working through contractors, and this makes it very hard for them to take a long-term approach to development.

That being said, I am unsure about the idea of legalizing opium production in Afghanistan. In the south or west, the security is, IMO, not good enough to build an opium plantation and processing centre. It would be a major target for the Taliban, and the problem of leakage would be substantial. In the north, where security is less of an issue, poppy production is way down- if you had the funds that it would cost to set up such a centre, why not invest in some other high-value crop that is not so problematic?