Patterico's Pontifications


The Afghanistan Opium Trade

Filed under: Terrorism,War — DRJ @ 12:14 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The British plan to pay Afghanistan poppy growers not to plant or harvest crops:

“Gordon Brown is planning a radical scheme to subsidise farmers in Afghanistan to persuade them to stop producing heroin, as part of a wide-ranging drive to re-energise policy in the conflict the prime minister now regards as the front line in the fight against terrorism.

The Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown has admitted that the rise in opium production in the country means Britain “cannot just muddle along in the middle” and must come up with more imaginative ideas on opium eradication.

Ministers are looking at what Lord Malloch-Brown describes as a system of payments loosely along the lines of the common agricultural policy to woo the Afghan farmers off opium production. The government is conducting joint research on suitable economic incentives with the World Bank.”

The British will also target middlemen and distributors through economic and other punitive methods, while hoping to win the voluntary support of producer-farmers through subsidy payments:

“Lord Malloch-Brown recently returned from Afghanistan to tell peers: “The Department of International Development is looking at whether we can put on a more formal and structured long-term basis what one would controversially describe as an Afghan equivalent of a CAP, with subsidised purchase of legal crops to make returns more like those from poppy.”

But he added: “We have to do a much better job of not targeting the farmers, the producers whose hearts and minds we are trying to win in the counter-insurgency effort. We have to target the industry above that – the financiers, the shippers, the drug big men who are benefiting from the production. We know who they are and the government of Afghanistan know who they are. A system banning them from travel, listing them and freezing their bank accounts, hitting at the industry’s infrastructure, strikes me as an area in which more can be done.”

He pointedly added that only the US favoured aerial spraying of opium crops.”

I grew up in a cotton-producing area where it was common for fields to lie fallow because of US government payments to induce farmers not to plant. It was quite popular with the cotton producers, and it’s worth a try to see if Afghani farmers will respond to similar economic incentives. It’s certainly a long overdue experiment.

In addition, I wouldn’t rule out spraying. Together they constitute a “carrot and stick” method that strikes me as a traditional Western approach to changing undesirable behavior.


10 Responses to “The Afghanistan Opium Trade”

  1. Get ready for the libertarianbots to descend.

    dave (c44c9b)

  2. This plan is long overdue.
    It should be the official policy of the Kabul government (as if anyone in the poppy areas actually listened to Kabul) to subsidize these farmers to NOT grow opium (and for the West to pay for the program).
    A billion or two “earmarked” to the poppy growers in the HinduKush, will go a long way to decrease the costs (in large multiples) in the streets of America, and Europe, of the Drug War.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  3. I think the idea is good but the details are off. The problem with this idea is that it’s too easy to cheat.

    The right way to implement this is to offer to buy all the opium, at an attractive price, and then use as much of it as makes sense for legitimate medical purposes, and destroy the rest.

    But if you pay a farmer to not grow opium, why shouldn’t he take your money, grow the stuff anyway, and sell it to the smugglers? Then he makes even more money.

    Steven Den Beste (99cfa1)

  4. Pay growers not to grow the poison is lunacy,if you knew someone was slowly killing your children with poison would you really bribe them to stop or would their immediate demise be preferred?
    These people know what they are growing is killing others and simply don’t care so from my perspective paying them to stop or spraying herbicides is not the answer only the very real prospect of a bomb landing on their homes is.

    Michael (27ee26)

  5. Good point, Mr. Den Beste. That’s why spraying is important. Sooner or later, farmers will learn they can get paid to not grow opium and earn money from growing another legal crop. Isn’t that a win-win for them?

    It may not work but it’s worth a shot, especially since (presumably) the Brits are paying for this experiment.

    DRJ (5c60fb)

  6. Michael,

    It’s poison to us. To them it’s a quasi-legal cash crop that supports their families.

    DRJ (5c60fb)

  7. These people know what they are growing is killing others …

    No. What they are growing is the best thing we have found yet to relieve the pain of others. There is no more effective pain reliever than heroin. I imagine to them it is just as irrational for some idiots to use this wonderful substance to destroy themselves as it would be to use a gun for suicide instead of self-defense.

    I agree with the British plan to go after the traffickers. They are the ones who know that they are selling medicine which will be used as poison. And BTW, we know who they are because they are our “friends” of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban bankrupted Afghanistan in their last year in power by forbidding all opium poppy cultivation.

    Ok, that makes me a libertarianbot and Taliban-lover.

    nk (597e8b)

  8. If we have to tilt the market, why not pay for other potential crops the land could manage? Particularly paying for anything that is inherently “good” for the soil – whatever the local nitrogen fixer is.

    Al (b624ac)

  9. Poppies have been grown there since the age of dirt. The bigger issue of why anyone is even approaching it is that the crop is used to fund the Taliban and AQ.

    Money is a stop gap measure that may work to cut of funds to the Taliban, if they don’t bypass the work of marketing the crop and just steal the money paid from the farmers giving a 100% return with no effort to sell the crop.

    What will stop the growing or stunt it is the realization by the locals that the crop they are selling is funding the people who suicide bomb school children as part of their method.

    Like an Anbar awakening the locals will have to say we don’t want this and stop the growers (who are under the gun from the Taliban to produce it) to quit enabling the Taliban.

    Taliban will try to still force growth or just steal or ransom the cash payments.

    No simple solution here other than full eradication with compensation and hope that a lot less of the cash gets through to the Taliban to cut their funds.

    daytrader (ea6549)

  10. The “poisoning our children” line is typical neocon idiocy. Phillip Morris is poisoning your children. Eli Lilly is poisoning your children. And you don’t even want them to get sued for the damages they cause, much less criminally prosecuted.

    But the sadist neocons always want some miserable sot to blame and punish. The less that sot can actually fight back, the more fun it is to grind him into the ground and blame him for all our problems.

    Phil (6d9f2f)

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