KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, April 21 (Xinhua) — “Growing poppies and selling opium is the only way to earn a living and support my family,” Assadullah, 65, a farmer, told Xinhua on his poppy plantation in a southern province of the city recently.
Working on his poppy field on the outskirts of Kandahar’s provincial capital, about 450 km south of Kabul, and slicing off the heads of the flowers to reveal the seed pods and release the opaque, milky sap used for the drug, the elderly farmer said that the low price of wheat, poverty and unemployment had forced him to replace wheat for poppy seeds.
“To be frank, I hate growing poppies,” the elderly man said, explaining, “It is poison that kills people. Producing and using heroin and other illegal drugs is forbidden by Islamic law.”
War-stricken Afghanistan is among the major opium poppy producing nations and reportedly supplies around 90 percent of the raw materials used in making heroin to the world.
The former Taliban strongholds in the militancy-hit southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces, are reportedly major production hubs of the illicit drugs in Afghanistan.
“I am ready to give up poppy cultivation and replace it with legal crops, such as wheat, rice, watermelon and saffron. If the government supports me to buy saffron, to find a market for my agricultural products, or find a job for my sons,” a deflated Assadullah said.
In the militancy-plagued provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Farah, where security remains an issue, the Taliban fighters, according to locals, encourage villagers to cultivate poppies.
Poppy production and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, according to locals and officials, have become the main source of income for the Taliban and like-minded groups to finance their subversive activities in the war-ravaged country.
Cutting poppy bulbs to extract the raw opium in his poppy farm, another farmer in Kandahar, Baz Mohammad, 45, said that he would abandon poppy cultivation if he could find an alternative way to provide for his family.
“I dislike cultivating poppies but poverty has left me with no choice,” the farmer told Xinhua.
“I would prefer to replace growing poppies with saffron if the government provided help,” Mohammad explained.
The price of 1 sir (7 kg) of wheat ranges from 250 to 300 afghani (up to 4.39 U.S. dollars) while 1 kg of opium sells for 11,000 to 15,000 afghani locally in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city.
Afghanistan is among the world’s poorest countries with poverty particularly concentrated in the country’s countryside. Around 36 percent of a population of nearly 30 million live below the poverty line in Afghanistan.
The economically impoverished nation as a major producer of illegal drugs, harvested 3,300 tons of opium poppies in 2015, according to a report of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released in last December.
Commensurate with the production of illegal drugs in Afghanistan, the number of drug addicts have also increased.
According to officials, more than 1.5 million Afghans are addicted to drugs, however, the number of drug users in Afghanistan, according to unofficial sources, is around 3 million including women and children, a figure doubled since 2010.
“Growing poppies and making heroin is killing our people, including our family members, but we have no other choice than to grow poppies to make drugs,” Rahimullah, a 35-year-old farmer, told Xinhua.
“We cannot give up poppy cultivation unless the government provide alternative crops and find a market for our agricultural products,” the frustrated farmer exclaimed, while extracting opium from a poppy bulb.
“Poverty leads to misery and the embracing of evil and sin. I have endured extreme poverty since my childhood and the only way for my family and I to escape this predicament is to produce poppies for drugs,” Rahimullah reiterated. “Unless the government intervenes to help.