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Afghan Poppy Farmers Face Increasingly Difficult Challenges

Farmers the world over want to secure a fair price for their crops. For many of these individuals, a contract is sought on the Chicago Board of Trade. For Haji Afzal, his 400,000 Pakistani rupees ($5,000 dollars) was paid by a middleman for the world's biggest drug cartels.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post, Afzal will harvest his crop in a month when the poppy bulbs ooze sap that will become opium. With the cash up front, Afzal had what he needed for a good crop. Afzal, however, is still worried.

Opium process has fallen over the past year by as much as 30 percent and Afzal worries that officials will either destroy his plants or demand bribes to leave them alone. He also worries that his farm will be squeezed between the Afghan government and Taliban militants who control poppy production in Helmand province.

The farming district of Marjah is the target of a coordinated campaign to push out militants and drug dealers and establish government control with police and civil services. Such efforts in the past have been unsuccessful as cooperation between the Taliban, drug smugglers and corrupt officials has turned the area into mafia fiefdoms.

"Drug money is addictive, and is starting to trump ideology," said the head of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, in a September report.

A reconstruction team in Lashkar Gah - where British bureaucrats lead a multinational team of experts in governance, justice and counter-narcotics - has distributed wheat seed to 40,000 Helmand farmers in an attempt to provide alternatives to poppy.

Deputy Bridget Brind noted, "These sort of counter-narcotics initiatives reduce insurgent influence and increase government authority." She added that the fall in opium prices was matched by a wheat price rise, another reason to switch.

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