Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
With Helmand’s opium harvest threatening to reach record levels again this year, farmers say the government has missed a valuable opportunity to reduce cultivation.
They claim that last year, the government enticed them to grow cotton by promising to pay 50 afghanis, or one US dollar, per kilogram.
Cotton production then increased sixfold, according to Engineer Abdul Satar Bost, a technician at Bost Enterprises, the only cotton processing factory in Helmand.
But farmers say the government did not follow through on its pledge.
At Bost Enterprise’s office, angry farmers say they have decided to grow poppy instead of cotton this year.
Hajji Toor Jan says he was only paid 28 afghanis for each kilogram. That’s not enough to cover his costs, he says.
“We are happy to cultivate cotton but only if it covers our expenditures,” says Jan.
Another farmer, Mohammad Daud, says he faces the same problems.
“Our problems are that we can’t afford the fees for the tractor or for the broker who buys the cotton. If the government pays more for our cotton. we will then be able to handle the expenditures. We can’t afford to buy food or other necessities at this price,” he says.
Helmand governor Asadullah Wafa says he sympathises with the plight of the farmers, but says his offer of a higher cotton price was only a suggestion.
“From the start, I never pledged it, but I proposed it to central government and the international community. But no positive response has been received yet,” Wafa explains.
Helmand was once one of Afghanistan’s major producers of crops like wheat, corn and cotton. But these days, most fields are cultivated with opium poppies.
Last year, Helmand provided almost half the world’s supply of opium, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
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