April 29, 2009

Poppylationcentric Counterinsurgency, Continued

A reader writes in:

Just some thoughts from my time working with Afghanistan. No one would dispute that the opium industry needs to be shut down. But the poppy has as much to do with the farmers as it does with the Taliban. It’s actually not all that complicated. It is the lightest crop available (it can be moved on the backs of motorbikes), which is crucial when you have no paved roads going in and out of your region. It requires very little irrigation, which is essential when you have very low rainfall where you live. It commands a high price for smaller amounts – essential when you can only grow limited amounts and can’t move your crop in bulk to markets. You don’t have to refrigerate or preserve it in any way, also fundamental when you have no storage systems in the region for real cash crops, and the only markets are extremely far away, meaning everything else will spoil. Sure they use it to finance their activities, but there are also farmers out there whose families are starving to death who have told people they will fight for the right to grown enough to feed their families. And with whom do you think they fight?

And Foust has more here.

The very simple fact underscoring the difficulties of curtailing opium cultivation in Afghanistan is that, put simply, opium is the local economy in many areas of the country. Because USAID can’t provide direct cereal crop assistance to other countries, it also can’t give farmers realistic alternatives to growing poppies. The money is simply too attractive. Similarly, almost no other crop, including cereal crops or fruits or other cash crops, has an industry willing to front the capital necessary for large-scale cultivation—making poppy one of the only financial options for cash-strapped farmers.