The Afghan solution: Less opium, more marijuana

Afghan farmers have been instructed not to grow poppy plants, but perhaps they should have been given Plant a copy of The Illustrated Guide to Forbidden Crops. And perhaps also a copy of 101 Bad Things That Could Happen to You in Prison.

As Afghanistan struggles to cut its raging opium production, aid workers try to find alternative crops, but for some former poppy farmers the choice was easy — they planted marijuana instead.

Afghanistan’s opium crop topped all records this year, producing some 93 percent of the world’s supply of the drug. [Link]

Wow, 93 percent! No wonder so many teen-agers can find Afghanistan on the world map. It’s the No.1 destination for summer volunteers.

Balkh province in the north was trumpeted as a success story — from 7,000 hectares of poppies cultivated in 2006, it was declared opium-free in 2007 after strong local government action.

But around the ancient citadel of Balkh, in fields where pink poppy flowers stood last year, jagged green marijuana stalks poke above other crops and in places whole cannabis fields produce a pungent aroma strong enough to be picked by passing motorists.

The farmers are still cautious. "They are not my fields," said Shamseddin, surrounded by head-high cannabis plants in full flower. "I don’t know who they belong to," he said, dropping a sickle to the ground and nudging it away with his foot. [Link]

That Shamseddin, he’s so sneaky. Almost managed to fool the Reuters reporter. If only he wasn’t wearing a T-shirt promoting his website: "BestMarijuana.com."

Others said they only planted marijuana to shield their cotton fields from livestock or that it was just a trial crop.

"The landlords used to plant poppy, but then the government came along and destroyed the crops," said farm worker Mohammad Yassin.

"This year we planted marijuana, the dealers will come and buy the crop from us, so we’ll see what we make from it. We probably won’t plant any next year." [Link]

Phew! We can relax now. They probably won’t plant any next year! Yeah, next year it’s going to be hemp.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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