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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 23:01 GMT
Poppy season opens in Afghanistan
Poppy field in Afghanistan
Farmers find growing opium poppy financially rewarding

Afghanistan is enjoying a period of quiet. While US marines are celebrating Christmas, Russian TV says local farmers are resuming their usual business - planting opium poppies.

For a long time, Afghanistan has been a major supplier of opium poppies used as a raw material for heroin.

The export of raw opium from Afghanistan at times reached 4,000 tonnes a season.

young farmer
Karim has a family of 12

A film crew from Russian Centre TV gained unique access to the remotest poppy plantations in Afghanistan.

The crew visited the village of Turam, not far from the Tora Bora region.

With the war nearly over, hundreds of Pashtun fighters are returning home.

The TV said they were quickly replacing their automatic rifles and machine-guns with spades and mattocks.

Time 'running out'

The season for sowing opium poppies opens in eastern Afghanistan in December.

This year's campaign is in full swing.

Karim Aziz, a farmer from Nangarhar Province, has already planted a hectare of opium poppies on his land. Dozens of his neighbours have done the same.


Previously, we grew onions and wheat here and some people grew rice. But these crops require much effort to grow whereas poppies do not even need to be weeded

Karim Aziz, Afghan farmer
Very soon, in April next year, the whole village will reap a rich harvest of poppy heads, the TV said.

And they will not be the only ones. In Nangarhar Province, almost one in every two villages is engaged in poppy cultivation.

"Previously, we grew onions and wheat here and some people grew rice," Mr Aziz says. "But these crops require much effort to grow whereas poppies do not even need to be weeded. They survive periods of drought too."

As soon as the harvest is collected, the village will be flooded with buyers.

Through caravan routes, tonnes of raw opium will be delivered east to the so-called tribal areas where it will be processed at illegal factories into heroin of the purest quality.

Risks

The routes are dangerous. Most of them are still mined. They are also plagued by robbers.

In a single journey, a caravan can lose up to five people. However, those who survive will be amply rewarded.

December is the season
Work is in full swing
The TV said the Taleban encouraged the cultivation of the opium poppy, but banned its sale inside Afghanistan.

he export of heroin was hailed as a kind of jihad, a fight against the infidels.

Taleban and opium

For many years, the Taleban financed their armed forces with funds raised from heroin sales.

However, when Taleban leader Mullah Omar was pressed by the international community to ban poppy cultivation, the number of plantations was almost halved.


I have a large family to feed - 12 people. All my neighbours have large families too. That is why the village is cultivating poppies

Karim Aziz
Nowadays the old bans and controls are no longer in force.

In Nangarhar and Badakhshan Provinces, every field commander and tribal chief decides for himself whether people should plant opium poppies or not.

"I have a large family to feed - 12 people. All my neighbours have large families too. That is why the village is cultivating poppies," Karim Aziz says.

A farmer can earn up to $10,000 from several kilograms of raw opium - an enormous amount of money for any Afghan.

The TV said many locals cannot imagine any other means of supporting themselves.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

28 Dec 01 | South Asia
US bombers 'hit Taleban hideout'
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