Helmand farmers abandon illicit crops to cultivate hing

By Abdul Khaleq Hamim

Farmers in Helmand, a province once notorious as Afghanistan's leading opium poppy producer, are now embracing profitable alternatives like hing because of their weariness with the troublesome poppy crop. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

HELMAND -- Farmers in Helmand, a province that historically was Afghanistan's top producer of poppies, have wearied of growing the problematic crop and are turning to lucrative, legal alternatives such as hing.

Hing (Asafoetida) is a plant native to Afghanistan and Iran, produces a resin-like sap that is ground into a yellow powder and is used in cooking as a seasoning, as well as in the production of certain medicines, including for indigestion.

The plant begins producing resin that can be harvested after two to four years, and resin can be extracted from the plant up to 20 times a year, local farmers told Salaam Times.

One of the farmers who are replacing poppies with hing is 25-year-old Mohammad Naseer, a resident of Garmsir district who began planting the crop on his 0.8-hectare land two years ago, after growing poppies for a decade.

A farmer works at his hing farm May 10 in Garmsir district, Helmand province. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

A farmer works at his hing farm May 10 in Garmsir district, Helmand province. [Abdul Khaleq Hamim/Salaam Times]

Hing is twice as profitable as poppies, and is less labour intensive and demanding of attention than poppies are, Naseer told Salaam Times, vowing that he will never again grow poppies on his land.

"Hing is a great alternative to poppies," he said, adding that he has no regrets about making the switch. "Harvest from this plant is halal (legitimate) and more profitable."

"The climate in Helmand is very suitable for growing hing," he said, noting that some farmers who began cultivating hing a few years ago "have good yields now" and that their success has sparked a movement away from poppies.

Helmand historically was Afghanistan's largest opium producer because of its high level of poppy cultivation, Naseer said, noting that by replacing poppies with alternative crops, farmers will play a role in mitigating opium's harmful effects.

Some farmers regard hing as a "hidden treasure" because of its high yields and the rewarding price it can command, with a single kilogramme of its resin retailing for more than $200 in international markets.

'Halal and profitable crop'

On his one-hectare plot, 58-year-old Garmsir farmer Khair Mohammad has been cultivating hing, switching to the crop three years ago after spending almost two decades cultivating poppies.

Poppy cultivation has damaged Afghanistan's reputation and is not even profitable, he said, pointing out that not only is hing more profitable, but it also improves Afghanistan's image in the world.

"Poppy cultivation had become a custom in the past in Helmand," he said. "Everyone was cultivating this illicit crop, but most farmers have turned to alternative crops instead of poppies in recent years."

"People have realised that the illicit cultivation of poppies yielded nothing but destruction."

"Poppy cultivation has caused significant damage to us and to our country," Mohammad said. "By replacing it with halal alternative crops, we want to eliminate this destructive crop."

Nad-e-Ali district farmer Abdul Shokoor, 38, who is responsible for feeding a family of seven, told Salaam Times he replaced poppies with hing on his 0.4- hectare land two years ago.

He said he made the switch because poppy cultivation is haram and its profit goes to drug traffickers.

The hing he planted has started producing resin this year, he explained, but he expects that it will have a higher yield from next year onward, and he will consequently have a higher income.

"Hing is a halal plant and has a higher price than poppies do," Shokoor said, noting that hing is commanding higher prices every year and will soon outpace poppies.

Each kilogramme of hing resin currently sells for $300, he said, "which is good news for us".

"Those who grow hing will enjoy better economic outcomes and their lives will be transformed," he said. "The economic problems of farmers will be addressed if hing farming becomes more common."

Expansion of alternative crops

Following the international community's recent increase in support to farmers in Helmand, many farmers have ceased poppy cultivation and turned to alternative crops, such as dates.

Gereshk district farmer Faiz Mohammad, 53, has set up a greenhouse farm this year with financial support from the United Nations (UN).

He said he was forced to cultivate poppies in the past to provide for his family, but with the UN's support, he is now able to grow vegetables in a greenhouse.

"I have experienced relief since I stopped poppy cultivation," he said. "In the past, I had to work the whole day in the poppy fields. Farming in a greenhouse requires less work and water."

"Support from aid agencies has helped hundreds of farmers like me abandon poppy cultivation," he added.

"We did not have the economic means to build a greenhouse and grow vegetables, but aid agencies provided this opportunity to us and saved us from poppy cultivation."

With the harvest of his vegetable crops this year, Mohammad said he has an income and his economic situation has improved.

In Helmand province, poppies are gradually being replaced with hing and other crops, said Sher Mohammad Nekzad, who heads the hing unit at the Helmand Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

"Hing, greenhouses, fruit orchards and grains are alternatives to drugs in Helmand," he said. "Farmers have adopted these crops with the financial support of aid agencies."

"For years, farmers had been cultivating poppies, but instead of improving their economic situation, it was worsening year by year," he said.

"Farmers are tired of poppy cultivation and have turned to alternative crops that are more profitable."

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The World Food Program announced planting of fruit trees in the hills of Laghman province. The Afghan branch of the program announced in a tweet yesterday that with the financial assistance of the European Commission, the Federal Ministry of Development of Germany and the Asian Development Bank, jujube saplings were planted in an area of 350 hectares of land to protect the hills from heat and drought. The World Food Program adds that to plant these trees, people were selected from among 600 internally displaced families who did not have food security. The World Food Program said that 20% of the participants were women.


May God help the farmers of Helmand to plant such plants, fruits, and vegetables. On one side, they will get legitimate profit, and the workers will be busy working with them in the fields, from planting the crops to harvesting. Another essential benefit of fruits and vegetables is that poor people get them from the land instead of buying them in the market. For example, okra, ridge gourd, Colliflower, spinach, leek, onion... but with the cultivation of poppy crops, the entire Helmand turns to poppy fields which do not benefit people with low incomes. Still, all people benefit from vegetables and salads...


Our religion (Islam) is a very sacred religion with simple orders. It emphasizes easiness for its followers and the success of both worlds. In Islam's holy religion, all things harmful to humans are forbidden. Islam says that the followers of any religion should not be harmed, but unfortunately, long tragedies in Afghanistan (40 years of war) have turned people away from education. This same war has closed their ways of getting religious and modern education. People are also ignorant of knowledge. They are unaware of what they should be aware of, such as halal and haram, our religious issues. Still, in the name of religion, other people do many illegal things, such as poppy cultivation. If someone truly understands that poppy cultivation harms an Afghan, a Muslim, and a human being, why would he plant it? While there are alternatives such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, and others, wars have taken everything from us and put a foot on the throat of humanity. Although our neighbors and some other countries mistreated us and shot us with bullets in our eyes, as a Muslim, it is not appropriate to plant poppy seeds and harm humanity in this way. Hing and any other halal plant is an excellent alternative to grow instead of poppy crops, but foreign wars are always brought to us. No one will let us get our rights. Now that there is relative peace in Afghanistan, it seems that no one wants to work with us anymore, and we have to live to get rid of many problems and work for ourselves. Sti


Cultivating asafoetida instead of poppy crops means that the farmer will reap great rewards in this world and hereafter. Poppy turns to opium, and opium turns to heroin and other harmful substances. Useful substances (medicines) are also made from opium, but unfortunately, there is no such equipment and machinery in Afghanistan to make medicine from opium. That is, at this time, only heroin and such substances are made from it, which harms the Afghans inside and other people in Afghanistan's neighboring countries and member countries of the world community. What harm it kills people. While asafoetida is used as a medicine on the one hand and as a cooking spice on the other, it also has health benefits. That is, it benefits the human being. During the 20 years of the republican system, not millions but billions of dollars came to Afghanistan to stop narcotics cultivation. Still, unfortunately, foreigners stole some, and internal warlords and corrupt officials stole some. If the money that came to prevent the cultivation of poppy crops had been spent on projects that benefited the people and had an effective form, now Afghans would not need to plant poppy crops. Cultivating asafoetida, roses, and saffron and making banana, palm, and other gardens can prevent poppy cultivation.


Poppy crops are something harmful, not beneficial. The benefits from the poppy is not halal, because buying and selling it is a means of ruining a society. Instead of poppy crops, farmers should grow something that is halal and beneficial to the country and people. Fortunately, the farmers of Helmand have started cultivating hing with the help of the United Nations. Through the cultivation of vegetables and fruits, farmers can easily export both domestically and abroad.