Area under poppy cultivation rises in Kandahar
KANDAHAR CITY (Pajhwok): The area under poppy cultivation has risen this year in southern Kandahar province, where an anti-poppy drive is being launched shortly, an official said on Sunday.
Provincial counternarcotics head Gul Mohammad Shukran told Pajhwok Afghan News the bulk of the illicit plant had been grown in areas controlled by the Taliban and the remaining in government-controlled areas.
He said collecting data about the area under poppy cultivation was the job of UNODC, which was yet to announce its survey in this regard.
However, Shukran said more land had been brought under the crop’s cultivation this year.
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 36 per cent in 2013, a record high, according to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey released by the UNODC.
Shukran said it was fortunate that in some areas of Kandahar, the illicit plant had been destroyed by hailstorms in cold areas and they were launching a campaign to eradicate the plant in hot areas.
He named Zheri, Panjwai, Maiwand and Shah Walikot districts, where poppy crops had widely been sown.
He said the plant had been grown on government-owned lands in Maiwand because the plots had been usurped by powerful individuals who had connections with drug mafia and militants.
However, he said they had chalked out a plan to carry out a massive anti-poppy campaign. Not only poppies would be eradicated, but lands grabbed by powerful individuals would also be retaken, Shukran said.
Panjwai district chief Fazl Mohammad Ishaqzai said poppy crop had been cultivated in remote parts of the district and they had finalised a plan to eradicate it.
He said tribal elders and imams had been trying to convince farmers to shun poppy cultivations, but it seemed the effort had little impact.
The district chief linked the increase in poppy cultivation to a lack of irrigation water, absence of market for agriculture products and poor economic condition of farmers.
The rise in poppy cultivation comes amid an ongoing Food Zone Programme which is aimed to encourage growers to switch to food crops by assisting them with agriculture inputs.
Officials say some initial development projects to prevent drug smuggling and poppy cultivation and creating awareness about the hazards of drugs had been implemented in Kandahar under the USAID's Food Zone Programme.
Initiated two years ago, the USAID had set aside $20 million for the Food Zone Programme in Kandahar.
Shukran said the programme was in its initial stages in Kandahar and if implemented in line with people’s needs, the initiative could lead ot a decreased level of poppy cultivation in the province.
Poppy growers in a number of districts said they grew the illicit plant because the government did not assist them in the face of soaring price hike and the lack of a proper market for their legal products.
A farmer in Shah Walikot district Mohammad Gul said they did not want to grow poppy crop in their fields, but they had been left with no option due to extreme poverty.
He said if the government wanted to resolve the issue of poppy cultivation it should first resolve their problem of irrigation water and find market for their produce.
With few days remaining to harvest the illicit crop in Kandahar and Helmand, thousands of buyers, including militants and those coming from Pakistan’s Quetta city, visit growers on a daily basis.
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