Economy

Nangarhar farmers choose strawberries over poppies

By Khalild Zerai

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A young man harvests strawberries at a garden in Surkh Rod district, Nangarhar province, April 23. [Khalid Zerai/Salaam Times]

NANGARHAR -- Strawberries are becoming a feasible alternative to poppies, the foundation of illicit Afghan drug production, in Nangarhar province.

Rahim Gul, a resident of the Fatehabad area in Surkh Rod district, Nangarhar, has planted strawberries on 0.4 hectare of his land and employed 10 labourers to pick strawberries every morning and take them to the market for sale.

Three years ago, Gul was still growing poppies on his land because the Taliban, who had allowed poppy cultivation, controlled the area. But farmers have turned to legitimate crops since Afghan government forces took over Fatehabad.

"Strawberries have been more profitable for us than poppies. Profits from strawberries planted on 1,755 sq. metres [0.175 hectare] of land were 300,000 AFN ($3,770) last year. This year, I have planted strawberries on 0.4 hectare, which will probably be three to four times more profitable than poppies," he said.

The Taliban used to take money from farmers under the pretense of ushr, but now they farm their land without any concern and are not forced to pay anyone, said Gul, adding that he pays each labourer 300 AFN ($3.77) a day.

"We collect up to 300kg of strawberries every day and pack them here, and we do this for about two months [while strawberries are in season]. With that money, we can take care of our families, who pray for our employer," said Mohammad Ilyas Mansoor, 28, one of Gul's labourers.

"In past years, we used to work in the poppy fields here in the Fatehabad area. Sometimes we would get headaches since poppy is intoxicating. But we had to work to earn a living," Mansoor added.

Alternative to poppies

"Strawberries are grown in Khogyani, Sherzad, Kama, Goshta and Khewa districts. These are high-value crops and will yield 150 tonnes this year," said Inamullah Sapai, director of the Nangarhar Department of Agriculture.

"We will organise 100 exhibitions this year to promote the cultivation of strawberries. We will also plant strawberries in greenhouses to compete with other markets, so that farmers can use them as a better alternative to poppies," he added.

Poppy cultivation has declined in Nangarhar. Three years ago, 13 districts grew poppies, but now, only six do so on an estimated 7,500 hectares of land, Sapai said.

In areas where farmers grew poppies before authorities eradicated them, the authorities help farmers by facilitating the cultivation of high quality crops, he said.

Since Nangarhar is more secure now, the provincial police have also stepped up efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation, 1st Lt. Farid Khan, a spokesman for the Nangarhar police, told Salaam Times.

"A lot of poppy used to be cultivated in Sherzad, Khogyani, and Hesarak in the past, but this year, our forces conducted operations there and cleared the districts of the Taliban," he said.

"We also carried out a poppy eradication campaign in the area, clearing hundreds of jeribs of land of poppies. The campaign is still going on."

"Our campaign will continue until poppy cultivation is eradicated," Khan added.

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Cultivating narcotics and other drugs that are harmful to human health is illegitimate. All the farmers of the country should avoid growing it and cultivate legitimate crops. Cultivating poppies is not only harmful, but it also endangers lives. The numbers of narcotic addicts are on the rise in Afghanistan, and all of these addicts will become a burden on society. These addicts are not only a headache for the government, but they also affect ordinary people. If there is one addict in a family, all the members of that family will be in trouble with him. Therefore, we request all the farmers of the country to avoid growing narcotics and instead cultivate legitimate crops, such as strawberries and saffron, so that the country gets rid of adversity, because cultivating illegal crops is unlawful and will ruin the nation.

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If all the farmers grow strawberries, saffron, etc. instead of poppies and other illegal crops, they will get more profit. Cultivation of legal and legitimate crops, in addition to providing better profits for the farmers, will also bring them reward in the hereafter, because legitimate cultivation is considered worship. Therefore, the country's farmers should try to cultivate legitimate crops on their farms so that they succeed in this world and the hereafter. Poppy cultivation causes youth to become addicted, and when the country's youth become addicted to drugs, they become a burden for the society and the government. Currently, we have more than three million addicts in our country. If drugs are not controlled, this number will increase in the coming years and will eventually ruin society. Therefore, the peasants of the country should have sympathy for their people and stop cultivating poppies on their lands so that youth do not become addicted to drugs any longer.

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In recent years, saffron, strawberries, and roses have proved to be good alternatives to poppy crops. If a well-versed plan is made and spread to other provinces too, based on the quality of the soil, if Allah is willing, we will get rid of the bad name of poppy crops. The religion does not allow planting poppies and other drugs. May Allah forgive those who have sowed it so far, and in the future, all of us should avoid its cultivation to prevent the destruction of Afghans and of the residents of the global village.

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