This week, Shahidullah Shahid writes from Kabul on the uncertain future for Afghanistan’s poppy economy
There’s a lot of action around opium in Afghanistan: We’ve seen a dramatic drop in cultivation in some areas. In the provinces bordering Pakistan, many hectares of land have been taken out of cultivation. But in provinces which don’t directly border Pakistan, you see a rapid increase in poppy cultivation, namely Helmand and Uruzgan. Uruzgan in particular has become more focused on poppy production, and larger areas are now being cultivated than in the past.
By the fall of 2018, these areas were over 70,000 hectares. This has led to a number of apprehensions of trafficked Afghan citizens going across the border – luckily not too many – but there is concern that people from those areas might try to run away.
This leads me to my main point: What do we do with all of these poppy areas? How does Afghanistan manage this threat? The government thinks they can keep this area under control and maybe grow a non-opium crop in the region. But the eradication operation is very expensive and takes place every month. If you take these fields out of the farming community and don’t replace them, what becomes of the economy? Who will be farming there, and where are the people going to get jobs? It means that there are going to be a lot of casualties.
The message now is that the government needs to follow this up with free irrigation, not just to supplement production, but also to make it possible for producers to maintain their gardens.
The rise in poppy cultivation is a result of both demand and corruption. Allowing one part of the economy to flourish, when others are struggling, contributes to inequality. These crops are grown in areas where the government and international community is not present. The government of Afghanistan and those who work with the international community need to be stronger so that everyone will have the same opportunities.
Shahidullah Shahid is chairman of Helmand for Change, a non-profit organisation that aims to empower local communities.