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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May 2008, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Inside Afghanistan's 'heroin fields'
By Tulip Mazumdar
Newsbeat reporter, outskirts of Sangin, Afghanistan

The sky's clear and the sun's beaming down. The greeny blue river's on one side, and across the water as far out as you can see, are miles and miles of poppy fields. It's beautiful. But it's deadly.

Soldier in poppy field
British troops have to walk through the poppy fields because of the threat of mines on the roads and paths.

Ninety per cent of the heroin found on UK streets comes from Afghanistan.

It's the country's biggest export and brings in a third of its income.

At this time of year, harvest is in full swing, and farmers head out to the fields.

This is one of the rare opportunities for guaranteed work for many Afghans. So the men flock to the fields.

Almost two million Afghans are involved in the poppy trade

One local farmer said: "There are no jobs here, this is our only option. We can't afford to feed our family with corn or wheat.

"We want the government to create jobs for people in Helmand then they can eradicate poppies."

He says he has a family of 16 to look after.

Slashing the poppies

Farmers spend from dusk until dawn in these fields.

They wear light cotton long sleeved shirts and cotton trousers.

Most wear a turban which keeps the scorching sun off their faces.

Patrol Platoon 2 Para patrol through the fields.

Opium from poppies
After being slashed five times the poppy produces raw opium

They're keen to speak to the farmers while they're working.

Captain Dave Middleton who is platoon commander said: "There are going to be (Taleban) informers around here.

"We're just trying to know our ground and areas and find out who can be trusted and who can't."

Even though harvesting opium is illegal in Afghanistan, British troops have nothing to do with policing the fields.

Almost two million Afghans are involved in the poppy trade, and for many it's the only way they can make money.

The way it works is after the poppies lose their leaves, the bulb on the inside is slashed five times over several weeks.

By the fifth slash the oozing brown gunk which bleeds from the bulb is ready to be scraped off. That's the opium.

It's put into containers and is mostly taken to nearby towns to be sold on up a chain.

It's smuggled over boarders and some of it ends up on UK streets.

'Good money'

The farmers get paid 5 a day, but they scrape off about 100 worth of opium in that time.

During the spring the Taleban keep their head down and don't tend to pick fights with British troops in case any of the fields get bombed as a result.

The Taleban don't tend to leave homemade bombs in the fields, because again, they don't want to blow up their poppies.

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