Weeding out the Poppy Menace | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.04.2002
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Weeding out the Poppy Menace

Hamid Karzai is determined to wipe out poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, but his war against the drug trade has already run into problems. The EU, Germany and the UNDCP might be able to change that.


Goodbye to that gorgeous red flower?

After two years of drought and a ban on poppy growing by the Taliban regime, Afghanistan’s bright-red poppy fields in the shadow of the Hindukush mountains are in full blaze again this year.

Sufficient rainfall and the fall of the Taliban have been a cause for rejoicing among farmers in the poor north-eastern provinces of the country.

But that joy will be short-lived.

Afghanistan’s head of the interim government, Hamid Karzai announced last week his determination to stamp out poppy growing in Afghanistan and has passed a decree to destroy crops and compensate farmers.

Too little too late?

But Karzai’s decree came too late.

The farmers had already sown the poppy seeds in late autumn amid a political vacuum after the toppling of the Taliban.

After the failed harvest in the previous year and the falling prices for wheat and maize, the farmers had no choice but to resort to the cultivation of the traditional cash-crop poppy, from which opium is derived.

There is resentment among farmers against Karzai’s bid to end drug production and there have been wide-spread protests around the country.

Things came to a boil earlier this week after rumours that security forces had killed eight protesting farmers.

The farmers say the cash offered by Karzai is insufficient to compensate them for the money they make from growing poppies, from which opium is extracted and then refined to produce heroin.

Karzai has now upped his offer to $ 350 an acre from $ 250.

UNDCP takes on battle against poppy

Afghanistan, which once produced 70 percent of the world’s opium, is under pressure from the world community to halt its poppy production, which according to the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) has swelled again after the end of the Taliban rule.

The Head of the UNDCP for Afghanistan, Bernhard Frahi says that Afghanistan is once again on the way to becoming one of the greatest drug producers world-wide.

"The new cultivation this year which is quite high can easily reach the level of the successful 97/98 harvest. That will bring additional stocks and assist the traffickers to have at least two or three years stocks to facilitate the export of heroin to Western Europe".

The UNDCP is trying to promote assistance to the farming communities in Afghanistan in exchange of poppy-elimination.

At the same time Bernhard Frahi believes that forced eradication of the poppy crop might be necessary at certain levels to reinforce the determination of the administration to wipe out the poppy menace.

Germany to aid in tackling the mafia

A big problem in the fight against drug production remains the Mafia and large drug syndicates, whose smugglers and dealers try to lure the Afghan farmers with high prices for raw opium and get them to flout restrictions on poppy growing.

The interim government in Afghanistan still has no proper police force in place.

The UNDCP hopes that it can enlist the help of Germany, which is playing a key role in training police officers in Afghanistan, to fight the drug Mafia.

"In collaboration with Germany there is a need to assist in setting up a police force in Afghanistan to set up an Anti-Drug department in Kabul as well as in Jalalabad in Nangahar province in order to fight drug-trafficking", says Frahi.

The UNDCP hopes to include Pakistan, Iran as well as several former Soviet republics in co-operation talks to tackle the firmly-entrenched drug trade in Central Asia.

EU ready with generous financial help

Even the European Union has decided to help Afghanistan in its war against drugs and has already pledged 28 million euro for it.

The EU has welcomed Karzai’s measures to fight the drug trade. The EU is clear that Afghan farmers should receive financial incentives to dissuade them from poppy plantation.

In a telling statement, the speaker of the EU commission Emma Udwin says, "The overwhelming majority of the opium-related drugs that we find on European streets have come from Afghanistan".