The country of Afghanistan has been at war since 1979 with the Soviets(1979-1989), Civil War(1996-2001), the Taliban and the United States of America(2001-Present). This does not help the advancement of infrastructure, let alone, agriculture. Afghanistan is made up of warm and cold desert climate with the Hindu Kush mountain range in the middle and northeast part of the country. The country is known for producing some of the finest fresh and dry fruits, but it is more known for its opium production. According to the CIA World Factbook, Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium at 211,000 hectares, or 521,392 acres in 2014.
The Taliban instituted a ban on poppy production in 2000 due to U.N. pressure of sanctions and there were close to zero poppy fields in the countries southern region, and none that were under Taliban control. This left local farmers without any income and the price of opium shot up from $28/kilo to $350/kilo according to the DEA.
Weeks after September 11, 2001 the regional price of opium had dropped from an all time high of $746/kilo to just $95/kilo, according to DEA reports. Everyone knows that war costs money and with the need for weapons and ammunition on the rise, the Taliban reauthorized the cultivation of poppies. “Wali Jan, an elderly farmer cultivating opium, said that “we cannot be more grateful to the Taliban… they have brought us security so we can grow our poppy in peace. I need the poppy crop to support my 14 family members”(Foreign Policy Journal).”
Opium poppy production is not a new thing for the country of Afghanistan, it has been going on since the Soviets invaded in 1979. Farmers could get $50 a pound for poppies, a lot more than any other traditional crop. The production of this crop grew so much that warlords in the southern providence’s in the late eighties threatened farmers with castration or death if they did not plant poppy seeds. According to an NPR article from 2013, farmers grow poppies because it is the only crop that has a market. They can not export their crops and get a good price for them let alone provide for their families. One farmer in the article said that in the past two years the government gave them an alternative of cotton at a higher price, but they never showed up to buy his product at the subsidized price, so he’s back to growing opium.
In order to make money from this drug trade the Taliban taxed not only the farmers but also the truckers transporting the product. For farmers who want to grow a legal crop, where the Taliban has an influence, they are welcome to do so but the farmer has to pay the Taliban the equivalent amount of what that land would produce in opium production. “We grow poppy, but the drug smugglers take it from us,” said Haji Ramtullah, a farmer in Maarja district. “We sell it cheaply. Then they take it over the border into Pakistan. They make twice as much as we do.” The Taliban also offers protection of poppy farmers by building defensive positions around fields or planting mines and Improvised Explosive Devices(IEDs) ahead of visits by eradication police. According to Afghan and NATO(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) officials, the Taliban also attacks security checkpoints to allow drug convoys to pass, along with conducting attacks to lure Western troops away from an area where a major shipment would be passing through. An interview of Governor Delawari expressed what drugs do to a country, “We get called a narco-state and the money ends up outside the country.”
Afghanistan has natural resources like coal, iron ore, uranium, natural gas and petroleum, but most of these resources have not been tapped or harvested. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the untapped mineral deposits are worth between $900 billion to $3 trillion. The country of Afghanistan has huge potential in agriculture and natural resources, their farmers just need freedom to grow/harvest and a much better infrastructure to help transport their crop so there can be a market.
My name is Graham Garrey, I am a senior at Western Illinois studying Agribusiness. I am from Somonauk, Illinois and I am also a member of the Illinois Army National Guard.
Sources: How Opium Profits the Taliban
CIA World Factbook
Foreign Policy Journal