Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan - the search for alternatives
FAO asks for $25.5 million to finance development projects in main poppy producing areas
2 February 2004, Rome -- Eliminating opium production in Afghanistan will only be successful if poverty and unemployment are reduced at the same time, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.
FAO is requesting $25.5 million to finance agricultural development projects over the next five years in four main poppy producing provinces -- Badakhshan, Helmand, Kandahar and Nangarhar, targeting around 1.5 million people.
"We do not have the 'super crop' at hand to convince farmers to give up poppy production immediately," said Angelika Schückler of the FAO Agricultural Management, Marketing and Finance Service.
"Rural poverty and the lack of income are the main reasons why farmers produce opium," she said.
"It will take a long-term commitment and probably more than a decade to create alternative income opportunities. The project aims to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure in some of the main poppy producing areas and to boost horticulture, livestock and cash crop production in order to create alternative livelihoods for small farmers, landless workers and vulnerable groups," she added.
FAO proposed a set of interventions that could create alternative income opportunities and reduce the dependence on poppy production. FAO's proposal is based on the National Drug Control Strategy.
"Farmers need inputs for orchards, forestry, irrigation and livestock, as well as access to credit and training. Infrastructure, health and education services need to be restored," Schückler said.
Many tree nurseries need to be restored to respond to large-scale demand for planting materials. The construction of small irrigation dams is important where farmers are facing restricted water availability -- for example, in Kandahar, where the main water supply reservoir is silted up after many years of drought. This has degraded once-thriving orchards in the area. Improved access, especially for women, to animal health services would improve livestock productivity and production and provide women with income.
FAO also proposed to intensify horticultural production through training orchard farmers in post-harvest technologies and in managing vegetable storage facilities in each province.
Livestock farmers should have access to credit to buy sheep and each province should have a feed mill. FAO would also extend its successful income-generating poultry projects for women.
Niche crops suited to the unique Afghan environment (herbs and spices, mulberries and sericulture, essential oils etc) should be developed in close collaboration with farmers' communities. A range of public and private employment-creating initiatives could include cash-for-work reforestation programmes, fruit and vegetable handling centres, collection and processing of livestock products (milk, eggs) and the promotion of fisheries. Better access to credit, farm management and business advisory services and market research would also be needed.
Poppy is popular
Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, providing almost three-quarters of global opium production. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), poppy production amounted to 3 600 tonnes in 2003. Recent trends indicate that poppy cultivation is spreading further into remote areas. Around 1.7 million people, 7 percent of the population, are directly involved in poppy production.
Poppy is only produced on approximately 1 percent (around 80 000 ha in 2003) of the total arable land in the country. The bulk of poppy production takes place on irrigated land. The province of Nangarhar is currently the largest poppy cultivating area.
Whereas the majority of Afghan farmers cultivate opium poppy for reasons of poverty and lack of viable alternative incomes, most of the profits remain with national and international drug traffickers.
Opium as a product is attractive to farmers because it is durable and easy to store and carry to the market, FAO said. Opium markets operate like spot and future markets, with traders providing credit to farmers for future production.
According to UNODC estimates almost 500 000 people are globally involved in the Afghan opium trade.
With an average price for raw opium now at $283 per kg and expected yields of up to 40 kg per ha, poppy cultivation is much more profitable for farmers than the production of other commodities. In 2003, poppy cultivation generated a gross income of around $1 billion, around $3 900 per opium-growing family. This compares to an average national wage of $2 per day.
"Cultivating poppy means that farmers have a relatively secure cash income, at the same time it provides access to land for poor farmers and the landless. It often offers the only source of credit and inputs and well-needed work opportunities," Schückler said.
For women, who often are allowed to sell opium residues after the main harvest, poppy provides a rare and lucrative source of income.
Agricultural sector is extremely weak
"Opium production offers immediate and stable incomes in an environment which is often very hostile to agricultural production," Angelika Schückler said.
"The agricultural sector is extremely weak, with poor services, marketing systems, roads and communication facilities, a widespread lack of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and basic tools, and degraded irrigation and water storage facilities," she added.
"Only if poppy production is seriously cut back through strong law enforcement and if the overall production environment improves significantly, will farmers finally switch to alternative crops," she said.
"We will probably face some resistance, but I'm sure that working closely with the Ministries concerned, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and other international partners, the fight against opium production in Afghanistan can be won," Schückler said.
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