Good government will matter little, though, if the local economy is in a shambles. Marja’s agricultural base relies primarily on opium, and any new counternarcotics policies will wreak havoc; arresting or killing the drug traffickers will ultimately be the same as attacking local farmers. The timing of the offensive could not be more damaging: opium is planted in the winter and harvested in the spring, which means those who planted last year cannot recoup their investment.
In Helmand, opium is the only way farmers can acquire credit: they take out small loans, called salaam, from narcotics smugglers or Taliban officials, often in units of poppy seed, and pay back that loan in opium paste after harvest. If they cannot harvest their opium, they are in danger of defaulting on their loan — a very dangerous proposition.
Western aid groups distributed wheat seeds last fall, but there was little follow-up and it seems few farmers used them. This year, the aid workers should be prepared to pay farmers compensation for any opium crops they are unable to harvest as a result of the fighting, and the Western coalition should help the groups develop a microcredit system.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
In today's New York Times, Registan blogger Josh Foust calls for the US military to set up what sounds like an Afghan version of the US Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency's price support program, in which farmers are paid not to grow certain crops, to reduce opium production in Afghanistan: