Afghanistan Drug Control - Substitution
The Taliban continued to finance its terrorist activities through the drug trade. Estimates suggested the Taliban received between 100 and 150 million dollars a year from narcotics-related activity, a significant portion of its estimated $400 million annual budget.
The basic objectives of USG supported anti-narcotics programs are the elimination of opium poppy cultivation, enforcement of the bans on opium poppy cultivation, prosecution of drug traffickers, destruction of 'heroin labs, and educational and curative programs leading to reductions in local narcotics consumption. Each objective is interlinked with the others. It is unlikely that complete success in one area can be achieved without equal efforts in the other.
The Narcotics Awareness and Control Proiect (NACP) was authorized in December 1989 as a 42 month project, funded at $12.5 million. It became operational in mid-1990. The project was subsequently redesigned to eliminate crop substitution and development aspects under pressure from AID/Washington, because of Congressional concerns, and eventually discontinued because of differing interpretations of relevant legal provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) under which AID does business inside Afghanistan. The contract was terminated in January 1992.
By 2004 the UK, which was the lead donor nation for counter narcotics programs, would spend $12 million over the next three years to create an anti-narcotics task force to conduct eradication. The UK promoted crop substitution and alternative livelihood programs for Afghan farmers. But simply having alternatives is not enough; licit crops cannot compete with poppy.
To cite but one of far too many examples, Nangarhar Province was a major poppy growing area, with an estimated 28,000 hectares poppies planted in 2004. The Governor of Nangarhar Province, Haji Din Mohammad, pledged to aggressively tackle poppy production in his province and requested urgent assistance to supply wheat seed to farmers as an alternative to growing poppies. Responding to this request, U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad agreed to a one-time emergency program, totaling about $500,000, to assist farmers in Nangarhar. The seed allowed planting of approximately 2,800 hectares to wheat instead of poppy.
As part of a program to provide alternative livelihoods to Afghan farmers involved in poppy cultivation, the United States provided 490 tons of wheat seed and 1,000 tons of fertilizer to farmers in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province. "Illegal drugs pose a mortal threat to Afghanistan's future," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said at the 04 December 2004 ceremony in Jalalabad to launch the $500,000 project. He said the illegal drug trade breeds corruption, which he characterized as "the enemy of the public good."
The Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002 (22 U.S.C. 7511) was ammended in 2007 to establish a pilot program to test the effectiveness of a crop substitution combined with an appropriate offset to encourage legitimate alternatives to poppy production for Afghan poppy farmers within an area in which poppy production is prevalent. The intent was to better learn and understand the measures needed to create a successful alternative livelihood program to transition farmers who currently grow illicit poppy to grow licit crops. By providing seeds and technical assistance for alternative crops that have market demand and coupling that assistance with a offset that would address significantly the difference in income that farmers would otherwise receive by selling poppy, the intent is to test the effectiveness, utility, and challenges associated with transitioning Afghan farmers to grow licit crops.
Future alternative livelihood programs in this area could benefit from the lessons learned from such a pilot program, regardless of the level of success of this program. Finally, the offset is not intended to be paid to farmers who grow both poppy and legitimate crops. It should be paid to farmers who are growing licit crops only.
Saffron, referred to by some as “red gold,” has been in demand for centuries. The Latin name for the plant which bears the delicate spice is Crocus sativus L. Saffron growing has been promoted in Afghanistan in recent years in response to a call from the Afghan government to investigate economically viable licit alternatives to poppy. Due to the significant labor costs inherent to saffron production, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. Not only are saffron profits competitive with opium, in relation to other licit crops, but saffron needs little water during growth, requires minimal refinement, and has a low volume and weight, making it easily transportable.
While many may see saffron as the perfect solution to an economy based on the trade of an illicit commodity, there are a number of limiting factors in the development of a saffron industry in Afghanistan. Notably, the access to quality corms, or bulbs, from which to start production is insufficient, and the corms are expensive. Additionally, crocus fields take time to mature, occupying a field for several years, during which time the use of the field for other crops is greatly inhibited. Finally, making a premium return on saffron requires a comprehensive strategy from growing to marketing. A campaign that simply passes out corms to farmers is not enough. Thorough follow-on training and additional support in all aspects of cultivation, processing, and marketing is essential if Afghanistan’s budding saffron industry is to be competitive and profitable.
Realistically, immediate success did not seem possible. The farmer must be persuaded to stop growing a marketable cropl and suitable alternate crops or sources of income must be found. In Afghanistan, where the terrain limits access to many areas, the economy is based on subsistence farming and the tribesmen have engaged in international smuggling for centuries. In some areas of Afghanistan, opium provides practically the only cash income to the farmer and, because of the agricultural conditions, few substitute crops can provide an equal income.
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