05 February 2010

Afghanistan and the Poppy Trade, Redux

Two of my fellow bloggers have covered the issue of counter-narcotics in the past day or two, and both bring up some interesting points. The first is Sarah from Denmark, who discussed the coca trade in Colombia. While Colombia may be a ways from Afghanistan, rest assured that plenty of people are looking closely at Colombia's recent turnaround in order to find some parallel for Afghanistan. Sarah astutely notes that many farmers grow coca for the sole reason that it's one of the few crops that can turn a profit. If farmers are forced to choose between growing coffee beans legally and starving to death and facing intimidation from drug lords or growing coca and gaining protection and enough money to feed one's family, we shouldn't be surprised when people choose to grow coca. Sarah points towards a number of economic initiatives, such as Fair Trade, which ensures decent pricing for farmers attempting to grow coffee and other legitimate crops.

Certainly, a similar situation exists in Afghanistan. Although, as Shaun Baker--a professor at the US Naval Academy points out--it's made all the more interesting in the hands of the Taliban. Although the Taliban banned opium use when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until shortly after 9/11, they have since reversed course and encouraged (or in some cases, coerced) farmers to grow poppies. The Taliban have certainly shown that they're willing to sacrifice a number of principles--such as their ban on mind-altering substances (opium and alcohol)--in the sake of, well, survival. It's a great information ops point for certain, but we still have to deal with the obvious economic impacts of banning opium production and replacing it with something that's not only profitable, but also actually grows in Afghanistan. That's where Dr. Baker points towards saffron ("Mellow Yellow" as he calls it), as a potential alternative to opium. Worth a read.

Small Wars Journal has had some similar articles on this very same topic.

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