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|New ideas for Afghan opium|
Corriere della Sera - March 7th 2007
The idea to buy up
Certainly, the current policy in
Lives are not improving in part because of the Taliban insurgency itself, but also because too few new roads, schools and hospitals are being built. Local farmers try to survive by growing crops which they can market in a country that is poor and has terrible infrastructure. The best of those, by far, is the opium poppy. Heroin has a high value and can be transported easily despite the bad roads. So NATO and the Karzai government respond by trying to eradicate the opium crops: spraying and burning as much as they can. It is no wonder that they are failing to “win the hearts and minds” of ordinary Afghan farmers: they are working hard to destroy their livelihoods, day by day.
Eradication is a hopelessly bad policy, in the realities of today’s
So there are really only two choices. Either NATO and the Afghan government should leave the opium farmers alone. Or the outside world should offer to buy up the whole opium harvest every year, taking it out of the hands of the criminal trade. This would be technically difficult, since it would be vital to set a price for the crop which did not simply encourage farmers to smuggle opium to criminals willing to pay an even higher price for a now scarce resource. The biggest problem, though, is cost.
No one knows for sure, but it is thought that Afghan farmers earn a total of around $700m a year from opium. The total income for all Afghans—including Taliban, smugglers, corrupt officials and others—from the business is estimated at about a third of the country’s GDP, and so about $2.8 billion a year. For the idea of purchasing opium for morphine to work, that overall income would have to be replaced, for everyone involved except the Taliban. It can be replaced for the farmers just by buying the crop, but replacing it for the others would be harder. It would have to be done every year. And it would have to be done in such a way as to have a hope of eventually providing Afghans with an alternative way to make a living.
The cost would not be an impossible amount. Let’s guess that it would involve $4 billion or more each year. That is roughly one-twentieth of what