We’ve talked before about the folly of all-out poppy eradication efforts in Afghanistan, but nobody in power appears to understand basic economic principles. With high demand for opium and very few viable alternatives (and no strong infrastructure yet in the country), all that eradication can do is cause the people to oppose the U.S. and their own government. As eradication efforts are stepped up, those criminals who wield the most power or fear will control the distribution and the black-market profits will rise to levels that make the subverting of government officials in a chaotic country like Afghanistan childs play.
Smarter solutions exist. Various sources have suggested that we buy up Afghanistan’s opium for legitimate medical purposes. And the Senlis Council (via TalkLeft) is proposing that solution again and will present a detailed proposal today at Chatham House in London.
And of course, this makes a lot of sense. There are, for example, 130,000 farmers in India who grow opium legally. Why not in Afghanistan?
Bizarrely, that includes… Afghanistan.
The U.S. is spending $780 million on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, money that could be spent buying and developing medicines.
But there’s been no indication from the U.S. or British governments so far that such an idea would even be discussed. All the efforts are focus on eradication, just like in Colombia (and that has turned out so well…)
In fact, according to this article, eradication efforts in Afghanistan have recently been expanded to include…. marijuana.
Marijuana is an easy target for officials determined to show their commitment to drug eradication. Since poppies are not now in season, zealous counternarcotics forces can expend their energy on cannabis, which is harvested from October to December.
Marijuana earns farmers one quarter of what they get from poppies, but some farmers grew it in order to try to follow the government edict not to grow poppies. The police waited until it was almost ready to harvest.
Farmers say they can not support their families if they grow legitimate crops.
“If I take my annual yield of wheat to market and sell it, I make barely enough for one week’s outgoings,” said Fazel Rahman, a farmer in the Chahar Bolak district of Balkh. “We are not allowed to plant poppies or cannabis, but the government is not helping us find other seeds to plant. So we have to leave the country in order to earn our bread.
Isn’t it in our best interests to have stability in Afghanistan? To have farmers able to make a living? Shouldn’t we look at all options?
The Senlis Council is the primary international drug policy reform organization, and they’re starting to be heard (not much here in the U.S., but elsewhere). Here’s hoping that the British, at least, listen to them today.