The new book by Gregor Salmon is called “Poppy” and it is journey in Afghanistan trying to clarify the intricate story behind the largest opium producer in the world.
The financial and economic system of Afghanistan is principally sustained by poppy cultivation, which gives enough income for the majority of the Afghan population to buy food, clothes, and pay for access to education and health care.
The recent government measures to ban poppy cultivation have reduced the income of farmers and poverty has increased. The different attempts to give to Afghanistan alternative crops on which it can base development are failing rapidly and people are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living. The ban of poppy cultivation has been implemented mainly in the mountain villages, where the alternative projects don’t provide the same benefits as the poppy.
A big problem is corruption, like Gregor Salmon says in his interview. He argues that when the international community gives money for the projects, often it will never arrive to the people that need it because the government is deeply involved in corrupted actions and in the system of poppy cultivation. The main revenues of poppy cultivation are controlled by government, police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers. All these factions are supported by United States and Nato, that are leading a war against the Taliban who are also involved in the drug trade.
For the Afghan population there is not only a problem of poppy production, but also addiction. In the city of Herat alone there are some 11,000 drug users, but the numbers are rapidly increasing. The absence of harm reduction programs such as centers of treatment, night shelters, needle exchange services is a serious problem in a country already crushed by poverty, war and corruption.
The boundaries between the war on drugs and the war on terror are becoming increasingly blurred.