Monday, February 06, 2006

Taking farmers into confidence on opium eradication

Pajhwok Afghan News

, Feb 2 - Proposals being considered for the widespread destruction of opium plantations could end up destroying the lives of millions of farmers, an independent report warns. The report was released a day ahead of the international conference on Afghanistan that concluded in London on Thursday.

The report by The Senlis Council, a drug policy advisory forum, says that in the face of mounting violence and instability in Afghanistan, the focus should be on the real stakeholders in Afghanistan's future. ''The Afghan farming communities must be empowered and included in decisions on the future of their country,'' the report says.

Instead, governments meeting at the conference are considering destroying the livelihood of farmers by wiping out whole opium cultivations, the report says. Heroin made from opium grown in Afghanistan is known to be spreading at an alarming pace in Europe and North America.

But opium is used also to develop morphine and codeine in controlled laboratories, particularly in India, France and Turkey. ''We are saying that Afghan farmers should be encouraged to grow opium and use it in a domestic industry for production of codeine and morphine,'' executive director of The Senlis Council Emmanuel Reinert told IPS.

''There is at present a severe shortage of morphine and codeine in the international market, particularly in developing countries,'' he said. At present 80 percent of the world population has access to just 7 percent of the morphine produced, he added.

Morphine and codeine produced in Afghanistan could supply the large markets in China and Russia, he said.

The harsh methods planned to eradicate opium would be inefficient because they would also destroy normal plantations, he said. ''And it would ruin more than two million farmers who depend on opium cultivation,'' he said. Many of these people could then begin to support militant groups, which is just the opposite of what Western forces want, he said.

The Senlis Council had planned to bring four farmers from Afghanistan to its conference in order to give a strong message to the Afghanistan summit. But the farmers were denied visas by the British high commission in Afghanistan.

The group has launched a Farmers Defence Fund to support farmers to take legal action against destruction of their crops. The farmers fund will also offer legal assistance to farmers in event of arrest, and support to families of imprisoned farmers.

A farmers 'jirga' (an Afghan assembly where people meet to debate and take collective decisions) will be held soon to highlight the danger to farmers and to strengthen action against eradication of crops, the Council said in a statement.

The jirga has been planned in Kabul in April this year. Farmers' representatives from each province will be invited to attend.

The council's campaign builds on its own studies that show that eradication polices so far have not reduced the production of opium in Afghanistan, and on a United Nations security report that said that the eradication programmes are at the root of instability in several provinces in Afghanistan.

''Any move undertaken should be with the support of farmers and their needs and should not go against them,'' Safia Seddiqi, member of parliament from the Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, told IPS.

So far manual eradication operations have been launched, but the Council says that chemical eradication is being planned in the near future. Already, crop eradication has forced many poor farmers to leave their fields, the group says in its report.

''These displaced farmers have either had to find work elsewhere in Afghanistan or even covertly cross the border into Pakistan in search of a means of supporting their families,'' Gulalai Momand, who works for the group in Kabul, said in a statement. ''They have become refugees in their own country. At the moment nobody is protecting the farmers."
The council has prepared a draft law that will be presented to the Afghan parliament for consideration. The law prohibits the eradication of poppy crops in Afghanistan.

By arrangements with IPS News


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