Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and Agricultural Assistance

The Afghanistan poppy risk assessment for 2013 has revealed that 14 provinces were poppy free, 12 had an increased amount of poppy fields, 7 had no major change and only one has decreased. The study showed that the southern area was the largest poppy cultivating region followed by the west.

The study aimed to try and show the positive effects of poppy cultivation prevention techniques such as alternative development, field eradication and awareness campaigns. The study based their findings on a relatively small sample of villages, and is therefore a qualitative study rather than quantitative.

66% of those that were growing opium said they did so because of ‘high sales price for opium’. 10% said they did so because there was a lack of support from the government and the final dominant reason given was that poppy cultivation brought a high income from little land (8%).

Reasons for not cultivating opium included the ‘fear of eradication’ (46%). Only 2% mentioned this to be a reason for not growing opium in the previous year. In the north and north eastern provinces, 42% said that it did not give a good enough yield, whereas in 2012 only 4% said this to be the reason. 35% gave the reason that it was banned by the government; 17% said this in 2012.

In the surveyed villages, only 37% of the villages had received agricultural assistance, whereas 63% had not. 66% of the villages that were cultivating opium in 2013 had not any received assistance. However 34% had, but still continued to grow the poppy flower.

There have also been a large amount of awareness campaigns that have taken place. Of the villages surveyed, 77% were reached by an awareness campaign. From this 77%, 44% continued to grow opium whereas 33% did not. Of those that did not interact with a campaign, 16% grew opium and 7% did not.

Although the conclusions we can make from this study is very limited, the risk assessment concluded that areas where poppy cultivation was present in 2012 is expected to expand, as well as a number of provinces are expected to resume or start cultivating the poppy plant again. However, a number of other provinces “may gain poppy-free status in 2013 if effective eradication is implemented on time”.

Are these techniques, such as agricultural assistance really working? It seems that the answer is no. These techniques, although having a small impact on a farmers choice of what plant to grow, does not seem to be having any form of significant success.

Farmers are influenced by agricultural assistance groups to grow a number of substitutes, including Wheat, Rice, Maize, onions and apricots.

The problem seems to be however, that only a very limited amount of farmers are receiving any assistance, profits for alternative crops are, in most cases, significantly lower and there is a lack of opportunity to sell these given products.

There is a lack of opportunity to sell these products because transportation is a very big issue. A farmer who has a produce must transport their product to a market on roads that are barely safe, and the added fear of the possibility of their product being stolen on the way. However with opium cultivation, this is not a problem. Those that wish for the farmer to grow opium will come directly to the farm and pick up the produce and some even give money in advanced for the year.

If we want agricultural assistance to be effective, and for farmers to stop growing the opium poppy plant, more must be done. More farmers must be given help rather than just a minority. if we do not, how can we expect anything to change?