Maybe they could do this with tobacco! No, wait, we like that one.
Last year, Afghanistan produced 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, with some 60 percent grown in Helmand alone. The Taliban are said to siphon off hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the trade of the drug.
Now, with harvest time only a few weeks away and up to 60,000 migrant workers expected to flow into Helmand to work the poppy fields, the Marines have launched a new scheme in Marjah where farmers are paid to plough their own fields under.
“We’ve come up with this program, it’s a completely voluntary program, that’s the most important aspect. I’m not going to touch their poppy,” said Major Jim Coffman, a Marine civil affairs officer who oversees the new project.
“If they choose to destroy or to clear … their fields, we will give them $300 (per hectare),” he said.
Interesting. This idea has been around for awhile, though–and I mean awhile in association with Afghanistan, not necessarily as an plan that’s executed here in the States. But part of the reason the ideas has had staying power for Afghanistan is that it’s more effective long-term than solely paying farmers off–this program is also providing the tools for Afghan farmers to continue to be productive at another trade.
The real stickler will be the renumerative power of those replacement crops. Farmers aren’t sowing opium poppy because it makes for a pretty field–it’s one of the highest-value cash crops in the region, and even its replaced with some cash and soybeans there is no guarantee that a market for the replacement crop exists, or that it will pay out over time in as significant a fashion as poppy currently does. At least, though, this program acknowledges that the destruction of poppy fields is not in the farmers’ or NATO’s interest.
Meanwhile, it’s a sunny and more importantly warm day here in Oregon, and I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.