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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
The poppy farmers of Murgham
Jane Corbin, Panorama reporter
Jane travelled to the troubled province of Kandahar, where Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, comes from, to see how the jihad he declared against the poppy is being received on his home turf.

Abdul Razak
Abdul Razak, an opium farmer from Murgham in Kandahar province
Abdul Razak is praying by the side of a field full of waving pink flowers. He is a devout Muslim and he knows his President, Hamid Karzai, has told the nation that growing opium poppies is against Islamic values. But Abdul Razak says he has no other option.

He tells me "What can a man do when his children go hungry and he is full of shame?"

Abdul Razak lives with his family - eight children - in a miserable shack on a barren hillside. There is only one room and an earth-floored compound shared with their animals. An opium farmer gets 50 a kilo for the thick brown paste which he scrapes off the poppy heads in his field. He sells it to dealers who pass it on up a chain of traders and smugglers until, once processed into heroin, it is worth thousands on the streets of Britain. Abdul Razak can barely scratch a living.

Now the poppy farmers meagre livelihood is threatened as the government of Afghanistan - with backing from Britain and America have begun to eradicate poppy fields in these poor areas. But Abdul Karim, another farmer, says

The big dealers are like birds on the wing, the government will never catch them

Jane Corbin
Britain's heroin fix
Sunday 24 July 2005
22:15 BST, BBC One
The farmers of Murgham are all trapped in a vicious circle of debt. They are mostly landless peasants who have borrowed from the opium dealers to buy fuel and fertiliser for irrigating and feeding the poppy. The dealers charge punitive rates - to be paid in opium the next year.

I met a dealer who confirmed that whatever their predicament the farmers would just have to re-pay him next year and they would need therefore to grow more poppy. If a farmer cannot repay his debts then the dealers will take his children instead.

Seventy-year-old Isakhel sits stroking the face of his little grand-daughter, Noor Sava. She belongs now to a local opium dealer and she will be married to his son when she is old enough. "They pointed at her" says Isakhel "and I just had to give her - to re-pay my debts."

Poppy is the most lucrative cash crop a farmer can grow in Afghanistan. It is worth more than ten times the wheat the government is urging them to grow and it needs less water.

"We grow the poppy because of necessity - not because we do not obey our leader" says Abdul Razak. But President Karzai is coming under increasing pressure from the international community to tackle the problem of opium production.

With British backing he has pledged to rid his country of the crop by 2013. That target looks unrealistic - finding alternative livelihoods for Abdul Razak and the farmers of Murgham will take years - if not decades.

Panorama's "Britain's heroin fix" is broadcast on Sunday 24 July 2005 at 22:15 BST on BBC One.


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