Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rubin: More on the Dangers of Poppy Eradication in Afghanistan

Under the provocative title Poverty feeds Afghan drugs trade, Alastair Leithead of the BBC reports from Helmand and Balkh in southern and northern Afghanistan. His findings, like my arguments, contradict the claim by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (echoed of course by the US) that "opium cultivation is no longer linked to poverty." Leithead interviewed some of those farmers whose "greed and corruption" UNODC claims is responsible for poppy cultivation in Helmand:

The farmers are weeding the fields at the moment in Helmand. It is a family business, and they insist there is no alternative.

"I only have a small area of land and 10 people in my family," one farmer says angrily. "I can only grow enough wheat to last two months on this land, so the only way to feed them is growing poppies."

It is very fertile land, but the farmers complain the cost of fuel to pump irrigation water and the lack of markets and infrastructure makes anything else untenable.

Another man had his poppy crop eradicated last year, but it will not stop him trying again. "I lost my poppies, but those grown by the rich and the powerful aren't touched. So why should I stop growing them?" he asks.

Leithead also paid a call to Balkh, part of the "opium-free north":

After meeting and drinking tea with a number of contacts in different homes outside Mazar, a bearded, cheerful drug dealer took us to a place where they displayed plastic bags of liquid opium. He explained how the traffickers would come round to all the villages, buying what they had before taking it out of the country. "Ordinary people like you and I can't take drugs out of the country," he explained. "Only the foreigners and the big men with contacts can do it. They are stopped at police checkpoints, but they call the police chief, or a minister or the governor and they are allowed to pass."

But poppy cultivation has indeed decreased! Instead:
Although they have lost a profitable crop, for now another alternative is bridging the gap. In a mud compound a short walk away another man goes through the process of stripping the buds off giant cannabis stalks. In the autumn vast forests of marijuana plants scatter the landscape. It is something that has always been done here, but the price has gone up by a factor of four in just a year.

Richard Holbrooke, principal foreign affairs adviser to Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton, slammed the Bush administration's pressure for crop eradication in the Washington Post:
But even without aerial eradication, the [crop eradication] program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy. It's not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.


Anonymous said...

The fastest. most economical, and least harmful way to eradicate the opium poppy is to decriminalize ALL opiates.
Decriminalization would lead within half a year to the price of opium falling to approximately the price of a cigarette.
The same number of people will be indisposed at that price as at the current artificially high price.
After all, opium, heroin and cocaine were all legal and not a problem in the USA or the rest of the world prior to 1914.
True, a decriminalization would inconvenience the CIA, ISI, DEA, and the major Banks through which the exorbitant profits flow; but that inconvenience is a small price to pay.
Funny thing about opiates, one can indulge in their joys and still hold a job, contribute to society, and be profitable. Sorta like martini use that way.

Anonymous said...

Dr Rubin,
I wanted to mention this in response to your previous piece on UNODC's report already - there were some weird inconsistencies about the executive summary of UNODC's 2007 AFG opium survey (which is what they published instead of the full version, back in the summer), as well as about the UNODC press release on it.
(Link to the executive summary)
I recall that they were saying things like: "The number of opium-free provinces more than doubled, from 6 last year to 13 in 2007." And they said that, while they had in fact changed the definition of "poppy-free" from 2006 to 2007. In 2007, "poppy-free" meant having between 0 and 100 ha under poppy cultivation. In 2006 "poppy-free" meant 0 ha under poppy cultivation. So in 2006 Kabul (80 ha) and Bamiyan (16 ha) were poppy-free according to the 2007 definition... Kabul then, of course, would have been "lost" by 2007 (with 500 ha recorded there in 2007).
For something else that was strange, there's the fact, that the thirteen poppy-free provinces of 2007 all registered 0 ha that year. Not some other value in the interval between 0 and 99, even though that would have still meant being poppy-free... So I asked, seeing that, "has a drop below 100 automatically allowed a province to be booked as recording 0 ha of land under poppy cultivation?".
If those provinces weren't right at zero really, than with the 2006 definition there might have been less poppy-free provinces by 2007 than there were in 2006.

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