Written by Megan Windsor, CNN
The soft “dekhla” of the opium crop has been picked on the streets of Tarin Kowt, the bustling capital of Afghanistan’s Tarin Kowt province. As the end of the traditional poppy harvest is now six months away, farmers are selling or disposing of old crop to make way for a new harvest.
The introduction of the green oil-rich poppy plant in Afghanistan in 1997 changed many lives across the country. But the centuries-old income of centuries has now dwindled to just hundreds of dollars per acre of opium.
“Four or five thousand years ago, everyone had their own opium hotpot,” explained Mamun-Il Maz Qadari, an Afghan farmer and producer in Tarin Kowt. “Now, we go around and collect money from the others.”
Poppy by the ton
Afghan farmers work on their fields ahead of the start of the opium harvest in their region in Afghanistan. Credit: Kate Holt
Conventional opium is processed into morphine, a painkiller, and heroin, which causes euphoria and creates a high.
“The next harvest, we’ll be picking two tons of opium a day,” said Qadari.
Afghanistan once produced over 99% of the world’s opium, according to UN estimates, but the country is now a net importer of opium.
Poppy (coca) grew in over a third of all poppy-producing provinces, with the country’s massive annual poppy harvest costing the government $2.4 billion in tax revenues and fighting every year, according to a recent UN report.
Widespread opium cultivation has led to dire consequences. In 2012, an estimated 1.7 million Afghan citizens were addicts.
Demand abroad, such as in the growing heroin market in Europe, was responsible for this rise in addiction.
Pineapple farmers in Afghanistan — long respected as a bright crop — are now among the most important drug smugglers in the region.