The Problem With Poppies
Jim Hightower writes that that the United States is badly losing the drug war in Afghanistan in his column, “Afghanistan Forever. And Ever. And Ever.”
Oh, to be in Afghanistan again, when the poppies are in bloom!
If you need a symbol of how America’s decade-long war is going in this faraway land, look no farther than the beautiful fields of red poppies flowering so bountifully there. Unfortunately, that bounty symbolizes a failure of an ambitious Western initiative against the Taliban forces.
Innocent little poppies are the raw material for producing opium — and the poppy crop in just one Afghanistan province supplies more than 40 percent of the world’s opium trade. In turn, that illicit flower power fuels the Taliban with tens of millions of dollars a year to buy weapons, recruit and train fighters, make bombs, bribe Afghan officials and otherwise make war.
So, the West’s strategy has included an all-out effort to eradicate poppy production in the province, both by banning the crop and by helping Afghanistan’s impoverished sharecroppers switch to such alternatives as wheat and cotton. Good theory! If it works.
It hasn’t. Many poppy growers didn’t like having their cash crop taken away from them, so they moved to a desert region of the province that’s under Taliban control and turns out to be remarkably productive poppy land. Meanwhile, those raising wheat and cotton are producing good crops, but Western development specialists forgot to focus on the key factor in convincing people to switch: profit. For example, Afghan cotton is not competitive with cheaper cotton from Pakistan, plus, the lone cotton mill in the province often isn’t working and is notoriously slow in paying farmers.