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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 12:38 GMT
Taleban enforces poppy ban
Opium field
Afghanistan is said to produce 75% of the world's opium
By Kate Clark in Kabul

It is the season for sowing opium poppies in Afghanistan.

Last year it was the world largest producer of the flower, which is used to make heroin.

The ruling Taleban announced in the summer a complete ban on poppy cultivation, but only now is it possible to assess whether that ban is being enforced.

In this deeply impoverished country, poppy farming has been one of the few ways to earn a decent income.

No other crop gives such a high return and many farmers, particularly those in debt, say they are desperate about the ban.

They say they have come under heavy pressure from dealers to defy it, but the authority of the Taleban is proving stronger.

Widespread ban

Officials have met with local elders to pass on the edict and the message that farmers have no choice but to comply.

Harvesting poppy in Afghanistan
Poppy farmers have been hurt by the ban
Only in one area that I visited, Shinwar, was there any talk of sowing poppies.

Shinwar is tribal and close to the border with Pakistan, one of the main transit points for opium on its way to the West.

But even here, with only one week to go before the sowing season ends, the fields were still bare.

No-one has yet taken the decision to defy the ban.

Locals said the governor of the eastern provinces, one of the most powerful Taleban leaders, had himself come to lay down the law.

World pressure

The Taleban have been severely criticised in the past for presiding over a huge increase in poppy production.

It was one of the factors leading to the imposition of United Nations sanctions a year ago and it is regularly cited as a reason why the Taleban shouldn't be recognised as a legitimate government.

UN aid convoy
UN aid projects are being closed down
Their announcement of a total ban was greeted mainly with scepticism.

But now it's clear that they are serious about eradicating poppy production, the international community will have to react.

Domestically, the ban will hurt the Taleban financially and possibly politically.

It hits the pockets of farmers and traders in some of the main Taleban-supporting areas of Afghanistan.

The leadership has said they are under a religious obligation to stop poppy farming.

They are worried that Afghan youths will become addicted and there has also been a suggestion that the drought which has devastated the country this year was divine punishment.

But it's Afghan farmers who are facing the brunt of reducing the world's heroin supply.

The Taleban don't have the resources to help them switch to other crops and funding problems have meant that UN aid projects to help farmers are being closed down at the end of the year.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | South Asia
Taleban poppy plea
09 Aug 00 | South Asia
Afghan poppy ban spurs prices
28 Jul 00 | South Asia
Taleban bans poppy farming
14 Jun 00 | South Asia
The Taleban's drug dividend
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