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Dope Lobby Furious Against Afghanistan’s Successful Eradication of Opium and Methamphetamine

June 11, 2023, 2022 (EIRNS)—With the Orwellian title “The Taliban’s Successful Opium Ban Is Bad for Afghans and the World,” former Afghanistan World Bank country manager William Byrd, the U.S. Institute of Peace “Afghanistan expert,” laments Kabul’s stunning success in poppy eradication, that used to supply some 80% of the world heroin.

Byrd first acknowledges that satellite imagery analyzed by Alcis and associated research by David Mansfield, an independent researcher who has conducted extensive fieldwork and analysis on Afghanistan’s opium sector and rural economy for more than a quarter-century, show that the Taliban opium ban, announced in April 2022, “has been remarkably successful in sharply reducing opium poppy cultivation.”

In Helmand, by far Afghanistan’s largest opium-producing province, the area of poppy cultivation was cut from over 129,000 hectares (ha) in 2022 to only 740 ha as of April 2023. The reduction in Nangarhar, another long-standing opium producing province, is also impressive—only 865 ha this year compared to over 7,000 ha in 2022.

“This is an undeniable achievement, particularly given the much larger size of the opium economy this time around (an estimated 233,000 ha in 2022 versus some 82,000 ha in 2000).”

According to Mansfield, the Taliban took a relatively sophisticated, staged approach that evolved and intensified over time.

“The announcement of the ban was not accompanied by eradication of 2022’s bumper crop of poppy fields that were about to be harvested, which would have met fierce resistance. This gave rise to uninformed speculation that the ban was not serious. The Taliban did engage in eradication of the much smaller spring and summer crops subsequently planted in 2022, intended to deter others.”

There were also major efforts in Afghanistan during 2022

“to crack down on ephedra, the main ingredient for Afghanistan’s thriving methamphetamine industry. These actions sent strong signals to the rural population in advance of the fall 2022 planting season, which, along with outreach and threats, effectively deterred planting of opium poppy in the south and southwest of the country. As a result, the bulk of the reduction in poppy cultivation reflected people not planting in the first place, and this was complemented by eradication of some remaining poppy fields soon after planting. Unlike the Taliban’s previous opium ban, the current ban encompasses trade and processing of opiates, not just poppy cultivation.”

For Byrd, who in 2021 helped throw Afghanistan into chaos, endorsing the U.S. Federal Reserve’s freezing of $9.5 billion in the assets of the Da Afghanistan Bank (central bank), the idea of replacing opium by wheat is a disaster!

“The economic shock from the opium ban is enormous.... Afghanistan’s farm-level rural economy has lost more than $1 billion per year worth of economic activity as calculated by Mansfield, including as much as hundreds of millions of dollars that had accrued to poorer wage laborers and sharecroppers. These people and their families, already at the margin of subsistence and lacking other job opportunities in Afghanistan’s very weak economy, will be at even greater risk of hunger, malnutrition and associated health problems.”

Moreover, argues Byrd

“replacing poppy with wheat (as has been happening during the current opium ban) is economically unviable for Afghanistan’s rural sector as a whole and especially for households owning limited or no land. Most Afghans don’t achieve food security by growing their own food. Rather, people make ends meet by growing cash crops or producing other agricultural products (e.g., livestock and dairy), which can be sold to provide resources to purchase food needs, or by working other jobs. Wheat is a low-value crop and a poor substitute for opium, though it does serve as a temporary recourse for people who may expect to return to opium poppy later, in particular for landowners whose fields are ample enough to serve their own family’s food needs.”

As a result of the alleged disastrous income fall, threatens Byrd, the opium ban will create a refugee exodus to Turkey and Europe.

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