Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, poppy production has skyrocketed in the country. The Afghan heroin industry is by far the largest in the world.There are a few small inaccuracies in the story. In particular it credits the U.S. government with providing aid but does not mention the larger investment made by Gulestan's founders from their own resources. It also does not mention Mathieu Beley, who was not in Jalalabad when Watson visited. Beley is the president of Gulestan and played an essential role in establishing and operating the company. The story also identifies Abdullah Arsala, founder of the Red River Essential Oils company as an entrepreneur (which is correct) but does not mention that he comes from an important family of the region. His father was killed fighting the Soviets in 1982, and he was raised by his uncle, commander Abdul Haq, who was executed by the Taliban in October 2001.
For the past several years, a group of Afghan and foreign businessmen has been trying to offer an alternative, by urging farmers to grow flowers for perfume instead of for drugs. But it has been a frustrating and costly project.
Shafiq Azizi is a perfume distiller. When he isn't picking flowers in Nimla garden, a green oasis in the dry hills of eastern Afghanistan, he works in a hot, dusty parking lot in the city of Jalalabad. He darts between a network of steel pipes and drums, dumping fragrant ingredients such as cedar wood into a giant metal vat.
By boiling the ingredients, Azizi extracts valuable oils, which can be sold on the international market for thousands of dollars per gallon.
The NPR website also has a video, which you can see here. A 2006 study of Gulestan, done for the Aga Khan Development Network, is here.