UN helps Helmand farmers replace poppies with dates

By Abdul Khaleq Hamim

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over the past two years has been helping farmers in Helmand plant dates and develop their orchards. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

HELMAND -- The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over the past two years has been helping farmers in Helmand plant dates and develop their orchards.

The orchards occupy 10 hectares of land total in Gereshk and Khaneshen districts and Lashkargah, the provincial capital.

As part of the effort, the UNDP built a solar-powered irrigation system for each orchard worth about $2,000 each.

The objective of the programme is to fight poppy cultivation and encourage farmers to adopt alternative crops.

A date orchard is seen February 8 in Nad-e-Ali district, Helmand province. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

A date orchard is seen February 8 in Nad-e-Ali district, Helmand province. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

Abdullah, 58, a farmer in the Bolan area of Lashkargah, turned his 0.4 hectare of land into a date orchard.

He said he decided to switch from cultivating poppies to date trees because dates have higher yields and generate more income.

"Despite the challenges, I brought date saplings from Iran to Helmand," he said. "In Iran, date saplings bear fruit after three years, but in Helmand, they bear fruit just 10 months after being planted, as the weather is more suitable."

Over the past year, Abdullah began growing date seedlings to supply to other farmers.

"Date orchards in Helmand have been very fruitful because of the suitable weather. Many farmers in Helmand who used to cultivate poppies in the past have developed date orchards."

Each date tree yields half a tonne of dates two years after being planted, Abdullah said.

"Date yields are halal (legitimate), and they generate higher income than poppies do. When we used to cultivate poppies, we would work hard the entire year, but drug smugglers would make the largest part of the profit."

Thousands of young Afghans have become addicted to drugs in Helmand because of poppy cultivation and hundreds of individuals have been imprisoned or hanged in Iran for being involved in drug trafficking, he added.

Suitable replacement

Cultivating poppies was destructive, said Matiullah, 27, who owns a date orchard on 0.2 hectare of land in Gereshk district.

Profits went only to smugglers and mafia-like groups, he said.

"I was cultivating poppies for more than 10 years but was earning very little income. Some years I would even lose money instead of making a profit," Matiullah said.

"I was tired of cultivating poppies and was unintentionally involved in a haram (illicit) business."

"I have plans to expand my orchard next year. I will develop a date orchard on another 0.4 hectare of land next spring," he said.

Abdul Khaliq Achakzai, 24, who has also established a date orchard on 0.4 hectare of land in Khaneshen district, said he is happy to have escaped the illicit cultivation of poppies.

"I cultivated poppies for many years, but I never saw the profit of this destructive plant," Achakzai said. "Instead of making a profit, we would lose money while the smugglers were making money out of it."

"Our youth would get very busy during the poppy cultivation and harvesting season. Even school students would leave their studies and collect sap," Achakzai added.

"I call on the people to stop cultivating poppies and instead establish date orchards," he said.

"Opium destroys lives, but dates are halal (legitimate), and everyone can benefit from them. I also call on aid agencies to support the public in the provision of saplings and in other areas to establish more date orchards."

Poppy cultivation is very bad for the people of Afghanistan, he said, adding that he will never cultivate the illicit poppy plant on his land again.

Cultivating alternative crops

Farmers in Helmand, once a top producer of poppies, say they are tired of poppy cultivation and have turned to halal (legitimate) farming instead.

Khair Mohammad, 41, a farmer in Nad-e-Ali district, has cultivated wheat on two hectares of land this year.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has distributed improved seeds to hundreds of Helmand farmers this year, so they would stop cultivating poppies and gain better yields, said Mohammad.

"I was cultivating poppies until last year on my land, but this year, I cultivated improved seeds of wheat," he said. "I hope we won't have a drought this year and that I will have good yields."

"Poppy cultivation requires much hard work and costs a lot of money, but its profit is very low," he added. "Crops such as wheat are halal (legitimate) and require less effort and cost."

Farmers have been discouraged from cultivating poppy and have turned to halal crops, said Sher Ahmad, 53, another farmer in Nad-e-Ali district.

"I was unintentionally like a slave to the smugglers while I was cultivating poppies. We (farmers) were doing all the hard work, but they were pocketing all the profits."

"No one in our area is ready to repeat the past mistakes and cultivate poppies again," he added.

If aid agencies provide more support to the farmers, there will be no poppy cultivation in Helmand, said Ahmad.

Do you like this article?

5 Comment

Comment Policy * Denotes required field 1500 / 1500

Now is a very good opportunity for the farmers to plant palm trees on their lands. Dates have a better yield than other agriculture, because on one hand its price is high and on the other hand it has a long life; therefore, it is hoped that they will pay serious attention to date gardens in Helmand Province, which has vast lands. This way, the farmers will become self reliant.


It is pleased to hear and read the news of the development from all over the country. This type of news will increase as long as there is no war. How good it is that in the past, we used to read the news of war and deaths every day, and our depression would increase, but thankfully, now we hear and read information about prosperity and development. I say it can be minor, but good things should be done. Poppy is the plant of youth's destruction, but on the contrary, palms are the trees of benefit; it gives both fruit and reward.


I was watching a documentary on Nangarhar date gardens on YouTube; I felt thrilled. The journalist had a lengthy interview with the professional in charge of the garden. For me, the words that gave me hope were the ones that said that from this garden, we planted palm trees like in other areas; we sent them to Kandahar, Farah, Helmand and various regions of Afghanistan. I am thrilled to read this news. It is pleasing as in a province like Helmand, once called the centre of opium, today the farmers have realized that poppy and poppy cultivation is the first step of destruction. The most painful thing is that in this video, the farmer says; When I brought date plants from Iran, the Iranian forces did not allow me to bring them to the country. One of the reasons why Afghans are living their miserable days is because they have naughty neighbours. These neighbours kept the war raging in Afghanistan instead of settlement. We Afghans appreciate such programs of United Nations charities in Afghanistan. The best way to stop poppies is for Afghans to turn to this kind of horticulture. Of course, international cooperation is necessary because Afghans are economically very weak. Another thing is that we have vast deserts in Afghanistan. It is necessary to make a regular plan for these deserts. The rain and snow water be drained. This way, these kinds of palm orchards and the orchards of other valuable fruits will be made. With this, we will be able to build the vast deserts in the country


The United Nations has considered the destruction of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan as a fundamental issue and has shown its performance this year. The reports of the United Nations and the UNDP agency show that, people no longer like to grow poppy seeds in their agricultural fields. The United Nations with its program as they have prepared the irrigation system for the people of Helmand province; Lashkargah, the districts of Khanashin, Gereshk, and the people can easily irrigate their gardens, and the people of these districts have banned the cultivation of poppy in their agricultural land. The people of Afghanistan should consider not to plant poppy seeds in their agricultural lands, cultivation of which is absolutely forbidden in Islam. After this, the farmers will plant fruit trees on their agricultural lands, and plant cotton seeds, and cultivate watermelons and melons, which are both halal to cultivate and give more benefits, and the United Nations has provided you with the irrigation system. The people of Afghanistan must collectively say that they will no longer cultivate this forbidden seed in their agricultural lands. If our farmers stop growing poppy on their farmland, they will understand that they will save the lives of millions of people from addiction to drugs.


The United Nations should do a favor and not make the people consume the earth's clean water for irrigating the fields. Because they and other international organizations are predicting a severe drought, they have also provided solar systems to the people so that water can be consumed from sunrise to sunset. Using so much water will eventually lead to people not being provided with drinking water. They indeed help in an area and encourage people to build date orchards instead of planting poppies, and they cooperate with them. Still, they should also pay attention to the fact that the majority of the residents of Helmand and the whole of Afghanistan are facing more droughts. And if this groundwater is finished, what will people drink? If the United Nations wants to help the people of Helmand, they should first build dams on the Helmand River so that the necessary water reaches the lands and then build gardens.