UN launches new effort to counter poppy cultivation in Kandahar

By Rahimullah Khpelwak

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has introduced a programme to prevent the cultivation of poppies and strengthen the capabilities of the local communities in Kandahar. [Rahimullah Khpelwak/Salaam Times]

KANDAHAR -- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has launched a new effort in Kandahar to prevent poppy cultivation and empower local communities.

The Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA) is implementing the alternative livelihood programme in Zherai, Panjwai, Dand, Maiwand and Daman districts of Kandahar for a total cost of $800,000 (70 million AFN).

Nearly 6,400 farmers are participating in the programme, said Lutfullah Assadi, the head of DCA in Kandahar.

The programme offers farmers support in growing "vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, ladyfingers and wheat instead of poppies", he told Salaam Times. "This year, these farmers have grown vegetables and wheat instead of poppies on their lands."

A farmer collects vegetables from his field in Zherai district, Kandahar, on May 6. The field was once used to grow poppies, but with the financial support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it has been converted to a vegetable farm. [Rahimullah Khpelwak/Salaam Times]

A farmer collects vegetables from his field in Zherai district, Kandahar, on May 6. The field was once used to grow poppies, but with the financial support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it has been converted to a vegetable farm. [Rahimullah Khpelwak/Salaam Times]

The effort "is very effective in reducing poppy cultivation", he added. "We are trying to attract more aid in this regard and cover more farmers in other districts of Kandahar province."

Farmers are tired of cultivating poppies, Assadi said.

Under the programme, "13,000 hectares of land has been cleared of poppies in Kandahar and replaced by wheat and vegetables", said Emal Hakimi, a manager at the Kandahar Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

"The programme has created work for hundreds of impoverished farmers. They have income now by cultivating vegetables on their lands, while in the past their annual income was very low from cultivating poppies," he said.

"Thanks to favourable weather, vegetable yields in Kandahar are high and have helped the farmers economically," he added. "We are hopeful that more farmers will be covered by the programme in the future."

The alternative livelihood programme has reduced poverty in Kandahar, Hakimi said.

Salvation from poppies

Bismillah, 49, a farmer in the Zherai district of Kandahar, is one of the beneficiaries of the UN's alternative livelihood programme.

He has cultivated vegetables on 1.20 hectares and wheat on 2 hectares of his land.

"I used to cultivate poppies out of necessity because cultivating wheat did not generate good income," Bismillah said. "The income from poppies wasn't high either as we had to sell opium for a small price."

"I cultivated greenhouse vegetables this year with the support of the aid agency," he added. "The agency [DCA] gave me seeds to plant vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants and ladyfingers. They also gave me plastic sheets and other necessary equipment."

Bismillah said because of the better profit from alternative licit crops, he will never cultivate poppies again.

Shaista Gul, 35, another programme participant, cultivated poppies on his land last year.

"I could hardly make ends meet when I was cultivating poppies in the past, but this year I am harvesting vegetables and selling each kilogramme for 100 AFN ($1.14)," he said, adding that he is very happy with the income he now earns.

"If aid agencies continue their assistance and cover more farmers, no one will cultivate poppies anymore," he said.

No more guilty conscience

Farmers who have now turned away from growing poppies say a weight has been lifted off of them.

Saifuddin, 43, a farmer in Zherai district of Kandahar, said he felt embarrassed and was mentally not at peace while he was cultivating poppies.

"I used to feel guilty when I would go to the poppy fields and think about young drug addicts," he said. "Life was humiliating and I had a guilty conscience. I am now very happy that there is not even a single poppy plant in my lands."

Alternative crops such as vegetables and fruits are much more profitable than poppies, Saifuddin said, noting that in the past, farmers did not know about the profit of alternative crops.

"Now that we know about the dangers of drugs and the benefits of licit crops, I will never cultivate poppies again."

Khairullah, 38, a farmer in Zherai district, said when he was cultivating poppies in the past, he worked for drug dealers like a labourer.

"By paying a small amount in advance, drug dealers used to buy opium for cheap during the poppy cultivation season," he said. "During poppy harvesting season at the end of the year, drug dealers would buy my opium at a price of their choice. They were treating me like I was working for them."

"The alternative livelihood programme offers good support for us farmers. We could not have grown vegetables on our lands and gained better income had it not been for such assistance," he added.

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Poppy is a mean of destroying a society, and buying and selling it is illegal. When a farmer grows poppies, he has to sell them, and by selling them, the society goes to misery. When the United Nations Organization started this program in Kandahar province, it is the cause of halal provisions for farmers and preventing the misery of the society. Vegetable cultivation is far better than poppy.


Wheat cutting season; In the last few years, most of the agricultural land of our district has been occupied by pomegranate gardens. Before that, there used to be poppy plants growing on it, while now a minimal amount of land is left without a garden. Our esteemed farmers consider the grain of paradise, the wheat, better than the lousy poppy crops, and they plant it. It should not be forgotten that the beautiful wheat plant has given a golden color to our area today, so bear a picture of this humble servant!!


Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul, Farah, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar... are the provinces where few reconstruction works have been done during the 20 years long era of the republic. Behind this problem, on one side, the Taliban were fighting, and on the other side, there was the government and NATO, which bombed the areas, and as a result, many parts of the mentioned provinces were left out of development work. In the government of that time, in which most of the power was in the hands of the warlords of the former Northern Alliance, they did not allow the reconstruction works to be carried out in the Pashtun populated areas and often encouraged and even forced the organizations not to work in the Pashtun populated areas and instead they should work in the north of the country, where most of the residents are non-Pashtuns. It is also mentioned in the book of the former foreign minister of India, where she writes that India wanted to build a university in Khost province. Still, Abdullah Abdullah, a criminal of the Northern Alliance and the government's chief executive at the time, told her What the people of Khost were doing at the university? Build a university in Panjshir or any other Tajik-populated province and give cows or buffaloes to the people of Khost. However, now the institutes should work all over the country. Both Pashtun and non-Pashtun provinces are equally important to us. All Afghans are equal to us. Long live Afghanistan—death to Pakistan, the tr