Jobless Afghans turn to opium for cash

Published August 30, 2020
A 37-year-old farmer, Mohaiyudeen, shows packages of opium after harvesting it from his poppy fields in the Surkh-Rod district of Nangarhar province. — AFP
A 37-year-old farmer, Mohaiyudeen, shows packages of opium after harvesting it from his poppy fields in the Surkh-Rod district of Nangarhar province. — AFP

JALALABAD: Afghans pushed out of work by the coronavirus pandemic after businesses and schools were shuttered have turned to opium cultivation for cash during this year’s poppy harvest.

Afghanistan has long been the world’s top grower of opium, producing more than 80 per cent of the global supply and providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the perennially cash-strapped economy.

A coronavirus lockdown and travel restrictions saw trade grind to a halt and many businesses were forced to lay off staff, in a conflict-hit country where stable jobs are already rare.

“Because of the coronavirus I lost my job. I have a family of 12 members, I am the breadwinner,” said Fazily, 42, a mechanic in the central province of Uruzgan who, like many Afghans, goes by one name.

“I have no other way but to work in poppy fields to make some money.”

Despite myriad eradication programmes, farmers continue to grow poppies with near impunity

Farmers usually rely on a seasonal labour force for the spring and summer harvesting months but the coronavirus pandemic meant many were unwilling or unable to travel for the work.

A report published by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in June found a shortage of workers had been observed “in the western and southern provinces of the country, mainly due to the closure of a border crossing with Pakistan”.

Students unable to go to school because of the lockdown were among those who filled in, heading to the opium poppy fields looking to make quick cash.

“Our school is closed and I have enough time to go work in a poppy field and make some money,” said Nazir Ahmad, an 18-year-old student in Kandahar.

“About 20 of my classmates are also working here.”

More than 38,000 cases of coronavirus have been declared in Afghanistan and more than 1,400 deaths, though the health ministry estimated earlier this month that a third of the population has likely contracted the disease.

A months-long lockdown, which has mainly affected cities, has slowly been lifted since the beginning of August, with some schools, wedding halls and markets reopening.

Despite myriad eradication programmes over the years, Afghan farmers continue to grow poppies with near impunity, as both government officials and the Taliban often profit from the lucrative trade.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2020

Opinion

Editorial

Breaking the deadlock
09 Dec, 2022

Breaking the deadlock

It is time for PDM and PTI to show flexibility and realise that the future of over 240m people is at stake.
A targeted killing
09 Dec, 2022

A targeted killing

IF there were any doubts about a sinister, transnational plot to kill journalist Arshad Sharif, the 592-page report...
Dog-bite epidemic
09 Dec, 2022

Dog-bite epidemic

AN exploding population of stray canines has fuelled a dog-bite epidemic in Sindh, with the provincial health...
Worsening hunger
Updated 08 Dec, 2022

Worsening hunger

THAT the dollar liquidity crunch has started hurting the import of essential items such as vegetables and raw...
Bannu beheading
Updated 08 Dec, 2022

Bannu beheading

The state must take up the cudgels and neutralise barbarism before it spreads.
Smog misery
08 Dec, 2022

Smog misery

IF 2022 has taught us anything, it is that generations of reckless disregard for Mother Nature has accrued very ...