Dope dependent

Published: Monday 31 March 2003

-- It is a bumper crop that has raised quite a few eyebrows. Much to the chagrin of those leading the international fight against the drugs menace, Afghanistan harvested a bountiful poppy yield of 3400 tonnes last year. In a strange paradox, the country is struggling to gather enough food for its 27 million people.

A recent report released by the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board indicates that efforts to dissuade starving Afghan farmers from growing poppy -- the raw ingredient for making drugs like heroin -- have met with limited success despite a high-voltage campaign by Hamid Karzai's interim government. The government offered a compensation of US $350 per 0.25 hectare to those farmers willing to destroy the poppy crop. It also declared repayment of loans from poppy cultivation revenues illegal.

But the increase in illegal opium production last year shows that these measures have largely failed. The relatively better rainfall the landlocked country received after four years of drought has not encouraged farmers to grow wheat and other cereal crops in place of opium poppy.

According to a World Food Programme assessment, four million Afghans in rural communities are likely to face food shortage in the next 12 months.

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