Afghans turn from growing poppies to pot
The fields of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan were free of opium poppies this year, a success touted often by Afghan and international...
The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — The fields of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan were free of opium poppies this year, a success touted often by Afghan and international officials. But one look at Mohammad Alam's fields uncovers an emerging drug problem.
Ten-foot-tall cannabis plants flourish in Alam's fields. The crop — the source of both marijuana and hashish — can be just as profitable as opium but draws none of the scrutiny from Afghan officials bent on eradicating poppies.
Cannabis cultivation rose 40 percent in Afghanistan this year, to 173,000 acres from 123,550 in 2006, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated in its 2007 opium survey. The crop is being grown in at least 18 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, according to the survey released last month.
"The government cannot provide a good market for other crops like cotton, watermelon and vegetables, so I have to grow marijuana instead of poppy," said Alam, a farmer in Balkh province, which the U.N. singles out as a "leading example" of an opium-free area.
Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan's acting counter-narcotics minister, said the government doesn't yet have a good handle on marijuana.
"This is also a big problem for Afghanistan," said Khodaidad, who like many Afghans uses one name. "It is very cheap. Hashish is more harmful (than poppies) to the people of Afghanistan."
The U.N. said cannabis yields around twice the quantity of drug per acre as opium poppies and requires less investment. The U.N. drug report estimated farmers growing cannabis could earn the same amount per acre as opium farmers.
"As a consequence, farmers who do not cultivate opium poppy may turn to cannabis cultivation," the report said.
Afghanistan already grows some 93 percent of the world's opium.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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