JALALABAD -- The cultivation of poppy, which can be used to produce illegal drugs such as heroin, has seen a drastic drop in Nangarhar Province this year, say officials.
"Poppy was cultivated in many districts of Nangarhar during previous years -- at least in 13 just this past year," said Nangarhar Police Chief Brig. Gen. Aimal Niazi. "But this year, poppy has been cultivated in only six districts on much less land."
Because of expanded security coverage this year, "poppy is grown only in Khogyani, Sherzad, Hesarak, Dara-e Noor, Ghani Khel and Momand Dara districts in smaller amounts," said Niazi.
Farmers grew poppy on more than 15,000 hectares of land in the province last year, according to the Nangarhar Department of Counter Narcotics.
"Farmers have switched to growing legal crops. We also conducted a campaign of destroying 2,000 hectares of poppy fields," Niazi said, adding that security forces have expelled the Taliban from most of those areas that grew poppy.
Insurgents in the past forced farmers to cultivate poppy for the Taliban, who use the sale of illegal narcotics derived from the plant to fund their militancy.
Although a reliable survey this year on the amount of land cultivated with poppy has not occurred, it appears cultivation has dropped by half since last year, Niazi said.
Regret over growing poppy
"We have five jeribs of land, on four jeribs of which we grew poppy, but this year... we cultivated poppy on only half a jerib of our land, which we also regret," said Jan Muhammad, 35, a farmer in the Wazir Tangi area of Khogyani District.
"In the past, we could sell 1 ser (7 kg) of opium for Rs. 30,000-40,000 (14,000-19,000 AFN), but its price has dropped this year -- a ser goes for Rs. 10,000-12,000 (4,700-5,700 AFN) or even lower," said.
"If this situation continues, I won't grow poppy next year," added Muhammad.
"There were heroin production facilities in the past, and that was why the opium prices were higher," he said. "The government destroyed them all; nothing has left. And that caused the prices to drop."
"I used to grow poppy on this field in the past, but the government conducted operations in this area and established checkpoints, so... we don't grow poppy," said Rahmat Gul, another farmer in the Wazir Tangi area.
"Now that we see [what happened to] others who have grown poppy, we're thankful to God that we grew wheat instead because poppy prices are so low," he said.
"The government should now build us greenhouses and cold-storage facilities and help us with cultivating vegetables and marketing them," said Gul. "This will help farmers earn a living and encourage them not to grow poppy."
"We've established new orchards in war-torn districts," said Zamir Behsudi, director of the Nangarhar Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. "We will focus on districts where farmers used to grow poppy but have now switched to growing wheat and corn. We'll provide an opportunity for residents of these districts to increase their harvests."
"Now that the government has expanded its security coverage and farmers have stopped growing poppy, we'll increase our support by providing fertilisers, seeds" and other items to farmers, added Behsudi.
"This year we'll provide special assistance in areas where farmers have stopped growing poppy," said Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor. "We'll implement useful agriculture projects that will directly benefit farmers."
"We'll particularly focus on establishing orchards, greenhouses and cold-storage facilities and on building irrigation intakes, because our farmers need assistance in these areas," added Khogyani.