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Afghan Poppy Farmers Want A Bail-Out

From BBC News:

Pleas of Afghan ex-poppy farmers

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Sherzad district, eastern Afghanistan

A two-hour drive from the city of Jalalabad, on a brain-bruising dirt road, lies Gandomak.

Farmers in this remote village in Sherzad district in eastern Afghanistan say they stopped growing poppies last year, and are now growing wheat, vegetables and maize instead.

More than a year ago, the Afghan government backed by international forces eradicated their poppy fields.

But locals say they are still waiting for the help they were promised.

When I was last in Nangarhar province a couple of years ago I was surrounded by poppies – pungent and many coloured – but this year I could see only golden wheat, green maize and fruit.

Farmers in Sherzad agreed to eradicate the poppies after they were promised a road, an irrigation channel and a clinic for their village.

Sheen Goal Raza Kar was one of 1,000 farmers whose fields were wiped out – but a year on he is still asking for what was promised to him.

“Once they dropped some medicine from their planes, it destroyed everything. Then they eradicated our fields and promised us projects, but look nothing has been given to us,” he told the BBC recently.

‘Powerful people’

The tall, bearded Sheen Goal is holding a meeting among the villagers on this windy afternoon.

From the roof of his house overlooking his fields he lists his complaints.

“They destroyed my fields because I was poor and they couldn’t destroy those fields belonging to the powerful people at the time. Now I have grown tomatoes and other vegetables, but by the time I transport them to Jalalabad, they are all rotten.”

Qari Osman Sherzad, the eloquent 39-year-old village chief, says: “The Afghan government told them a year ago to stop growing poppies and the villagers were promised alternative crops and reconstruction projects.

“As we say in Sherzad, it’s give and take, not just take. Our women die before they get to hospital, we don’t have water for our fields and the road is in bad shape.”

Another villager is clearly frustrated, and wants the Afghan government to asphalt the Sherzad-Jalalabad road, so farmers like him can sell their products in Jalalabad and even transport them to Kabul.

“I haven’t been able to sell anything I grow this year, so we have sent our kids to brick factories in Kabul, Jalalabad and Pakistan to earn money. Is this justice?” the villager asks angrily as he strokes his beard

It was one of the biggest poppy-growing districts in the remote White Mountains. Like many other districts, it’s an agricultural area and thousands of families rely on their fields for their income…

Another farmer accuses senior Afghan officials and some tribal elders of stealing the reconstruction money.

“The world gave millions of dollars, but our government and elders stole that money. Where is my road and the irrigation channel?” says the farmer from the village of Toto.

Poor farmers and long-suffering villagers are paying the price, says another man, Ajmal.

“I have three sons, and I have sent them all to work in brick factories.

“Since my crop was destroyed, I have been borrowing money so my family can have the money to buy food, but people want their money back and I don’t have any money.”

Obviously the poppy growers need to form a union.

And then declare themselves too big to fail.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, December 15th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

9 Responses to “Afghan Poppy Farmers Want A Bail-Out”

  1. crosspatch says:

    “Farmers in Sherzad agreed to eradicate the poppies after they were promised a road, an irrigation channel and a clinic for their village. ”

    That is exactly how you lose an insurgency. You do *NOT* make promises that you can’t deliver on. If we promised them a road, an irrigation channel, and a clinic, then it should have been provided. You don’t promise infrastructure until you can actually provide what you promise. Failing to deliver drives the population away from the government and makes it harder to be credible in the future.

    We have shot ourselves in the foot with this one.

    Oh, and your ads make this page very slow to load. Adgardener in particular seems to take a long time to respond when loading your blog.

  2. Helena says:

    Another farmer accuses senior Afghan officials and some tribal elders of stealing the reconstruction money.

    “The world gave millions of dollars, but our government and elders stole that money. Where is my road and the irrigation channel?” says the farmer from the village of Toto.

    Absolutely right, crosspatch. This is the problem with filtering aid through local governments – they don’t bother with the public works, they just line their own pockets.

  3. crosspatch says:

    So the first thing you have to fight is corruption and you can not do that until you establish a real institution of government. The culture there is one where over the last century or three, local strongmen really ruled the local areas. One got by through staying in the good graces of a local warlord. It has been basically a feudal system not much different than in medieval Europe. You have a local strongman (the lord) and people of lesser standing pledge their allegiance (bayat ) to him just as a peasant gave an oath of fealty to his lord. This system ran under a King until only very recently in history.

    The culture has no real concept of a nation state and strong central government. There is more identity to the tribe (clan) and local strongman (lord) than to any politicians in Kabul. We keep insisting on looking at things through our cultural eyes. It is going to take a LONG time to get the notion of a central government instilled in the culture. At minimum two generations, probably three.

    And the way you start is to create national lines of communications. You need roads, you need a single central language, common radio and television communications in that language. You need to raise a generation that grows up in an Afghanistan where tribal boundaries are weaker and they share more in common culturally with kids the same age in all parts of the country. Right now a kid from the Southwest of Afghanistan can’t even understand a kid for Northeast Afghanistan if they were face to face talking to each other. They speak different languages and identify as parts of different nations. One identifies as Pashtun, the other Uzbek,

    Afghanistan is more an effort in nation building than in insurgency fighting. We need communications both in travel of people and goods and in electronic and written. We need education, and we need strong national institutions to create a sense of nationality of Afghan. People need to move around, fall in love, marry people from other tribes … over time blurring the clan boundaries and creating a national identity that replaces it. Highways, trains, markets, communications. Until we start that … we are wasting our time

  4. pinandpuller says:

    Gov Blago! We have a job for you! Go watch “The Man Who Would Be King” and report to Kabul ASAP. You don’t need to watch the end though-its too depressing. Take some union roads and bridges thugs with you too-the smoke breaks there are UNREAL.

    BTW-I wonder how many times that farmer sent his sons to town after making them swallow heroin-condoms? Good mules are hard to come by.

  5. Liberals Make Great Speedbumps says:

    The nerve! Who do these people think they are, the residents of New Orleans or something?

  6. crosspatch says:

    Those people have been growing poppies there for a very long time. The thing is, you can easily transport hundreds of dollars worth of opium on a donkey. It is a very efficient cash crop to grow when resources are limited. To grow wheat on any kind of scale, they need a place to store it where the rats won’t eat it and a way to get it there … if they can harvest it in time. It takes a truck to carry hundreds of dollars worth of wheat and a road to drive it on and an elevator to store it in.

    The guy is right. If we want them to switch to traditional grain crops, it is going to take a certain amount of infrastructure to make that possible. These people are poor and uneducated but they understand things like food and money. They aren’t going to grow a crop they can’t get to market. We don’t have to do their work for them, but we can act as an enabling mechanism. Ever try to grow/harvest/transport wheat by hand? These people don’t even have a high-school education and over half of them can’t read. If there is a market for opium and they can grow it and get it to market with the resources they have available, they are going to do it rather than plant wheat and let it rot in the field and then starve the following winter for lack of cash.

    I don’t think it is unreasonable that if we demand they change crops, we at least see that they have the infrastructure that it takes to support those crops. Irrigation and roads are pretty darned basic requirements.

    But we aren’t going to be able to do that until we have troops that are in those areas all the time. We have to have enough troops to “clear and hold” rather than clear here and clear there and clear someplace else and the Taliban just come back when we move someplace else.

  7. artboyusa says:

    Good posts, crosspatch. We need these people on our side and to get them there and keep them there shouldn’t be hard. All we have to do is keep our promises and not destroy their livelihood without offering them anything else or anything better. And if we can’t manage that we could just buy their damn opium off them, yes? That would be the quickest, most commonsense solution but we can’t do it – the media would go mental.

    Gandomak, btw, which is mentioned in the story, is the same place where the British army of General Elphinstone was finally destroyed during the First Afghan War back in (I think) 1847. Only one man survived to bring the story back to India. There’s a warning there for us about what could happen if we don’t raise our game over there.

    • proreason says:

      The irony of Iraq / Afg is that Iraq was winnable (we did), and Afg isn’t (in the sense of being able to stabalize it and walk away with some chances of stability sticking). The geo and culture make it impossible to convert the population in any kind of reasonable timeframe. The best we can do it to keep the lid on and the Taliban on defense.

      But it’s Obamy’s war now. We’ll see what real genius can do.

  8. brad says:

    Ugh! These people are so pathetic…. As I said before, just bomb Baghdad and all of Afghanistan from the air, and whatever dictator rises from the ashes in a few years, just bomb them again.

    I NEVER believed we should be in these wastelands with these people. They have a standard of living and thinking well before the age of the Greek or Roman empires.

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