Opium remains the number one crop for Afghan farmers. Corrupt officials and the Taliban are also profiting from the drug business. The war against drugs seems hopeless.
More poppies are planted in the southern Afghan province of Helmland than anywhere else on earth. Almost every farmer there cultivates the plant from which opium and heroin are made.
Right now, it is really paying off for the farmers. Last year, the value of opium rose by 133 percent to 1.4 billion US dollars (around one billion euros) - about 10 percent of Afghanistan's GDP.
Of that sum, only around 800 million dollars goes to the farmers - about 10,000 dollars per family, which is a lot of money for people with no other sources of income.
"We have high costs. Energy costs alone are very high. We can only cover our expenses by growing opium," says one opium farmer from Helmland.
Many Afghan farmers, who are either tenant farmers or have a small operation only, say the same. Other crops, such as wheat or rice, don't bring in enough money to support the family. Those who plant poppies have great advantages, says economics expert Sayfuddin Sayhoon.
"No farmer has to worry about being able to sell their poppy crops. Opium dealers guarantee each farmer a good price for their crops. They usually even pay in advance," he points out adding that farmers couldn't ask for "better conditions."
The government's war
Due to a lack of regulation and infrastructure, poppy farmers are rarely prosecuted. The Helmland government does not even have the resources to set up a functioning police force outside of the provincial capital, let alone fight a drug war. In many districts where opium is produced, the provincial government deploys so-called "local police" - a group of poorly equipped and poorly organized men who are not able to act against the powerful and organized drug mafia.
"We don't even get our monthly wages on time," says one policemen from Nad Ali village. "No one seems to care that we are poorly equipped and that our checkpoints are usually in provisional tents.“
Opium from Nad Ali and other secluded villages is brought to various heroin "factories" along the Pakistani-Afghan border, where it is processed and packaged into one-kilo bags. From there, the drugs go through Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia on to Russia and other European countries, but also to North North America, Africa and China.
Though the war against the drug mafia has been unsuccessful up to now - something that the government admits - Afghan authorities have not taken responsibility for this failure. The Ministry of Counter Narcotics pleads innocence.
"Our ministry is only responsible for strategic questions. We plan and suggest concepts. But we do not implement those concepts - that is the interior ministry's job,“ ministry spokesman, Qayum Samer, explains.
But the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs denies this, saying that Kabul demands each provincial government play a role.
"The government is demanding too much. We can't even control the borders to make sure drug curriers don't leave the country. We cannot fight the drug mafia alone." says Helmand governor, Gulab Mangal.
He adds that as long as there is a market for opium and heroin in the West, there will always be poppy farmers. He calls for more help from the international community.
Author: Ratbil Shamel / sb
Editor: Anne Thomas