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Promoting alternatives to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan
UK commits $6.83 million to develop viable livelihood options in poppy-producing areas
15 November 2004, Rome -- The United Kingdom has pledged $6.83 million to fund a two-year FAO project to help eliminate opium production in Afghanistan by developing alternative livelihoods in the country's main poppy-producing areas, the Organization announced today.

The funding is for the first phase of a $25.5 million five-year multidonor programme developed by FAO to support alternative agricultural livelihoods, targeting more than 1.5 million people in poppy-producing provinces.

Needed: legal - and lucrative - options

In line with Afghanistan's National Drug Control Strategy, which aims to eliminate illicit opium poppy cultivation by 2013, the project's main objective is to promote livelihood diversification by improving access to farm and off-farm income-generating activities in communities dependent on poppy production. Attention will also be given to communities in which poppy eradication has taken place, where families are facing severe income losses.

"Opium is not a crop of choice for most Afghan farmers. There are just no attractive alternatives at present that can give them a return anywhere near the return opium gives," said John Dixon of FAO's Agricultural Management, Marketing and Finance Service.

The participation of local communities in assessing and developing alternative income opportunities will be crucial to ensure local ownership and to address constraints to implementation before adopting these activities and promoting them beyond the initial project areas.

"We are training people on the ground - from village level up to national political level," said Dixon. "By working to improve the technical and operational capacity of Afghan institutions at all levels, the project will help create an environment that enables organizations to learn what works and for successful pilot projects to be replicated on a larger scale."

Increased dependence on opium production

Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium worldwide, accounting for more than two-thirds of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The 2003 harvest, at 3 600 tonnes, was the second highest recorded to date in the country.

The livelihoods of about 1.7 million rural people -- around 7 percent of Afghanistan's population -- are directly dependent on poppy cultivation. And poppy production has spread to more remote, less accessible parts of the country due to increasing political and physical pressure on the main growing areas since the country's 2002 ban on illicit opium poppy cultivation and the trafficking and consumption of opiates.

Poverty at root of poppy's appeal

For poor rural farmers struggling to survive amid the chaos resulting from more than 20 years of conflict and, more recently, four years of drought, the cultivation of opium poppy has provided relatively secure cash income and the means by which poor farmers and the landless could get access to land. It has also offered the only source of credits and agricultural inputs, with traders often offering advances against future production.

The profitability of opium production at prevailing prices of around US$283 per kilo is hard to beat: poppies are estimated to earn approximately eight times more income per hectare than wheat, using less water and fewer inputs.

Markets for outputs other than opium are often non-existent, so it is difficult to generate cash through normal cropping systems.

Prior to the war and drought Afghan households were able to produce over 80 percent of their food requirements. Now, however, they can only cover about 60 percent of their needs.

Horticultural crops like pistachios, citrus fruit, figs, dates and almonds once accounted for 30 to 50 percent of Afghanistan's export earnings. Today, horticultural exports are negligible and many horticultural operations no longer exist.

Re-establishing post-harvest processing capacity for selected traditional Afghan products such as high-quality nuts and dried fruits offers one opportunity for improving livelihoods, according to Dixon.

"The moment you build up local processing activities, you create jobs. This can give poor farmers off-farm income opportunities that can help lift them above the poverty line and provides cash for agricultural inputs," he said.

A holistic approach

The new project will build on FAO's continuing work in the country and dovetail with the ongoing development projects of other organizations operating there. Since 2001, FAO has been working to rehabilitate agriculture in Afghanistan, mainly through emergency activities, such as distribution of seeds, tools and fertilizers, and locust control.

Long-term projects include seed production, the cultivation and marketing of fruits and vegetables, veterinary services, poultry raising projects for women, milk production and marketing projects, the rehabilitation of irrigation systems and the strengthening of fragile Afghan institutions and services.

FAO is working closely with local institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and other partners to ensure a holistic, integrated response that addresses the various factors that drive farmers to cultivate poppies.

According to Dixon, a host of interventions will be needed to ensure sustainable progress in the fight against poppy production: restoration of infrastructure, health and education facilities, power, communication, law and order, to name a few.

"It won't happen overnight, but building up production, marketing and processing capacity will help re-establish acceptable income-generating alternatives. Coupled with effective law enforcement, initiatives like this can contribute to gradually reducing dependence on the drug crop," said Dixon.

"This project is a point of departure," he added. "It sets the scene for a long-term initiative that will require further commitment and support in order to achieve a sustainable impact on illicit poppy cultivation. In the future, funding from other donors will enable expansion of these activities, building on the lessons learned in this pilot phase."


Contact:
Teresa Buerkle
Information Officer, FAO
teresamarie.buerkle@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 56146

Contact:

Teresa Buerkle
Information Officer, FAO
teresamarie.buerkle@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 56146

FAO/M. Clausen

Opium is not a crop of choice for most Afghan farmers, but few profitable alternatives exist.

FAO/M. Clausen

Some 1.7 million rural people in Afghanistan are directly dependent on poppy cultivation.

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Promoting alternatives to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan
UK commits $6.83 million to develop viable livelihood options in poppy-producing areas
15 November 2004 -- The United Kingdom has pledged $6.83 million to fund a two-year FAO project to help eliminate opium production in Afghanistan by developing alternative livelihoods in the country's main poppy-producing areas.
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