It will be a banner year for poppy growers in Afghanistan, largely due to a new kind of seed.
The new poppy seeds allow farmers to almost double the output from each plant, said Helmand's provincial police chief Nabi Jan Malakhail. At harvest, collectors cut the bulb of the plant, allowing the raw opium to ooze out. This resin dries and is collected the following day.
Malakhail said the new seeds grow bulbs that are bigger than usual and can be scored twice within a few days, thus doubling the quantity of raw opium. The plants mature in three to four months, rather than the five months of the previous seed variety, allowing farmers to crop three times a year instead of just twice.
Drug officials blame the Taliban. Farmers blame the Afghan government which doesn't provide irrigation and power, both of which would allow them to grow other crops. [More...]
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The New York Times Magazine has an 7 page article on Afghanistan and the opium crop, with a headline asking if the country is a "narco state."
The author's suggestions for fixing the problem include these steps:
1. Inform President Karzai that he must stop protecting drug lords and narco-farmers or he will lose U.S. support. Karzai should issue a new decree of zero tolerance for poppy cultivation during the coming growing season. He should order farmers to plant wheat, and guarantee today’s high wheat prices. Karzai must simultaneously authorize aggressive force-protected manual and aerial eradication of poppies in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces for those farmers who do not plant legal crops.
2. Order the Pentagon to support this strategy. Position allied and Afghan troops in places that create security pockets so that Afghan counternarcotics police can arrest powerful drug lords. Enable force-protected eradication with the Afghan-set goal of eradicating 50,000 hectares as the benchmark.
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