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Cannabis Crop Booming in Balkh

Has cannabis replaced poppy as the crop of choice? With a focus on poppy eradication, many farmers have increasingly turned to cultivating cannabis in the hope of escaping the punishment.   Has cannabis replaced poppy as the crop of choice? With a focus on poppy eradication, many farmers have increasingly turned to cultivating cannabis in […]

نویسنده: TKG
28 Aug 2010
Cannabis Crop Booming in Balkh

Has cannabis replaced poppy as the crop of choice? With a focus on poppy eradication, many farmers have increasingly turned to cultivating cannabis in the hope of escaping the punishment.

 

Has cannabis replaced poppy as the crop of choice? With a focus on poppy eradication, many farmers have increasingly turned to cultivating cannabis in the hope of escaping the punishment.

In the northern province of Balkh which achieved poppy-free status three years ago, cannabis – known locally as hashish- continues to be cultivated. Recent reports suggest this year may see a spurt in this trend despite official claims of a concerted campaign to wipe out the crop.

“Last year a large number of farmers cultivated cannabis, and cannabis dealers are encouraging the farmers to cultivate it this year as well, so that they will make good money out of it” says Saed Shams, a resident of Kashinda district of Balkh province. Officials of the counter-narcotics department of the province however, say they will reduce the hashish cultivation to zero.

Ahmad Farid Ajezi, the acting director for the department of counter-narcotics in Balkh province said the government would make sure no hashish is cultivated in Balkh this year. His department would launch a program in collaboration with the farmers and elders to destroy the cannabis crops. Ajezi also says that many narco-traffickers have been taken into custody.  “There are approximately 87 registered cases against narcotics traffickers and we have taken 86 of them into custody so far. More than 50 of them have been sentenced to short-term and long term prison in accordance with the severity of their crimes.”

Despite these officials claims however, cannabis is used and sold publicly in downtown Mazar-e-Sharif.  “A large number of shopkeepers and their friends use cannabis every day, but there is no one to stop them,” says Juma Gul, a shopkeeper in Bazaar Lilami in downtown Mazar.

Smart cropping

Farmers cultivating cannabis have also become more ingenious, using innovative means to escape the government programme of eradication. In earlier years the government used to destroy the cannabis crops, says Allah Muhammad, a resident of Chahar Bolak district of Balkh province, but now the farmers plant cannabis among other crops. “Actually most of the cannabis is being cultivated along with vegetables, cotton and other materials. The main reason for farmers to combine crops is that the Afghan government cannot eradicate the cannabis because other crops will get destroyed at the same time.”

Muhammed says drug dealers are strongly encouraging Balkh farmers to cultivate more and more cannabis because farmers are cultivating a high quality type here.

Lotfullah Arman Lutfi who heads the UNODC Field Office in Balkh province says: “Cultivation of cannabis is a long-standing practice in Balkh province and most of the areas are cultivating the crop this year.” Lutfi however emphasizes that Afghan farmers, elders and tribal leaders in most of the districts in Balkh have promised to cooperate with the Afghan government to root out cannabis as much as possible. Lutfi says the Afghan government is considering alternative crops and livelihoods for the farmers currently cultivating cannabis. “All the efforts to change farmers’ livelihoods and cultivation patterns will be done in coordination with global community and through the Ministry of Counter-narcotics.

Drug addiction problems

Another problem arising out of increasing cultivation of cannabis is the growing number of drug addicts. Preliminary findings from a recent survey done by the UNODC estimated that there were 1 million addicts in Afghanistan; a figure the UNODC admitted was lower than the reality. The last concrete figures of drug addicts in Balkh province – from an earlier survey conducted in 2005 – found there were 110,000 narcotics junkies registered in Balkh province, a number that is expected to have increased since. Dr. Mobin Sultankhil, the former head of a drug addiction clinic with 20 beds, told Killid that an estimated 200,000 drug addicts are currently living in Balkh province.

Women and children also comprise a significant portion of the drug addicts says Ajezi. The UNODC recently found that as many as 50 percent of drug users in Northern and Southern Afghanistan provide opium to their children to make them more manageable, a practice that has led to the incidence of extremely severe addiction amongst very young children. Ajezi said opium was traditionally popular especially within the Turkmen community engaged in carpet weaving. This allows the family members to carry out their work without being disturbed by the children.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official of the Mazar-e-Sharif Provincial Hospital said: “Unfortunately the Afghan government and the Ministry of Counter-narcotics are not concerned about drug addicts. They need to pay attention to them.”

Mr. Ajezi says there are many healthcare service centers to cure addicts in Balkh province and a 75-bed hospital is being planned for treatment of addicts. The recent UNODC findings had stated that only an estimated 10% of drug addicts had access to treatment of any kind.

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