Growing fears of an opium explosion in Afghanistan

The farmers that make up Afghanistan’s giant opium industry could be at risk of an explosion in violence from poppy growers who have become enraged by the daily demands of insurgent warlords.

That is the hypothesis of an academic research project that has been looking at opium farmers in southern Afghanistan in the latest annual report of the Center for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

This year, the researchers started surveying 46 farmers on their views on the extremist attacks against poppy growers that began with the beginning of the now-defunct peace process and continued with the resignation of Afghanistan’s first vice president, Hazrat Ali.

“Now that Taliban launched its surge with the exit of the peace process, the farmers have very fearful situation,” says Paula Ekman, one of the project’s authors.

“This raises the question, which is why Taliban launched their surge when the farmers are used for fighting against them? There is no doubt that there are conflicts between the elites, but you cannot say that its going to be a conflict that belongs to the farmers.”

“We have done fieldwork among farmers about the employment of farmers in security issues. In earlier years we studied the actors in the post-election season. Now we are looking at insecurity.”

Read more: How a deadly kabul hotel siege shook Afghanistan

Such insecurity has allowed to the production of illegal narcotics to extend over wide areas, even bringing them out of the border in provinces such as Faryab in northern Afghanistan, where poppy has been cultivated since the 1980s.

That it is now happening in other provinces is due to an increase in insurgency, Ekman explains.

Because of that, Afghanistan has climbed to the third position in the global value of the opium crop.

“We have organized a three-month survey amongst farmers in southern Uruzgan. We focused on owners of six villages, where local authority is neutral and used for local farmers,” Ekman explains.

“We found out that there are 250 counter-insurgents and 35 key government officials,” she continues. “During our investigation we observed that the deployment of Afghan security forces in the villages in the south is always assigned to the local officials in order to receive the feedback.”

The survey did not conduct any interviews with local government officials. In fact, most of the people in the villages are relying on other people for their information.

To collect the data, the project asked six farmers a questionnaire that they answered by phone using a satellite phone.

One hundred eighty farmers answered the questionnaire, and about 20 of them have been chosen for ongoing interviews in interviews this year.

An illegal global industry

Afghanistan, which is the world’s largest exporter of opium and heroin, is also home to one of the world’s largest illegal cannabis industries, with the users across Europe from the Balkans to Switzerland.

But in that journey, too, smugglers often provide poor and illiterate farmers with the profits.

Today, nearly 10 million people are dependent on poppy, and for every poppy poppy farmer who is driven from his field, up to three are provided with cultivation licenses by traffickers.

While Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of poppies, Europe is the world’s largest consumer of opium.

“Substantial quantities of illegal narcotic goods are smuggled across the border for sale in the EU and out of the EU,” Erikssen-Claeys told Al Jazeera.

“In Europe, poppy production continues unabated. Between 2012 and 2015, the opium cultivation in Afghanistan went up from 3,040 hectares in 2012 to 9,285 hectares in 2015, with an increase of nearly 600 hectares in 2015 alone. In that year alone, the EU already bought 183 tonnes of opium from Afghanistan.

“The cannabis cultivation over the last five years is a little less. Although the EU is a big consumer, according to the European Commission – and EU laws do not demand any of the farmers be paid – up to 55 percent of the cannabis flowers exported from Afghanistan end up in Europe. So in Europe, as in the Asia-Pacific, the region is highly dependent on high proportions of unregulated or illicitized substances.”

Paula Ekman hopes to analyse the problems and solutions that could be applied to existing social problems, to determine whether they are connected to the growth in illicit narcotics or not.

Source: Al Jazeera and news services

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