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Feature: Poor Afghans continue to cultivate poppies to support family

by Jawid Omid

KABUL, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Despite some publicized success of the Afghan government's crackdown on poppy growers in the country, some Afghan farmers in the countryside continue to grow the plant to earn a living.

"If the government destroys my poppy farm, it is just like killing my whole family because I don't have any other means to feed them," the bearded Jannat Gul told Xinhua during an interview in his poppy field.

Poppy farms can be seen on both sides of a busy road linking Kandahar City with Zharay, Maiwand and Panjway Districts and the neighboring province of Helmand, the road which police and other security personnel routinely used.

Criticizing the government for failing to provide them with alternative means of livelihood, Jannat Gul said that since the wheat price is too low to support family, the farmers in his area are forced to cultivate poppies.

"We have no option but to cultivate poppies because the government cannot provide us with cheap wheat seeds or find markets for our agricultural products," Gul said.

Another farmer, Abdul Sallam, said that 7 kg of wheat cost 150 Afghanis (2.6 U.S. dollars) while the price of 1 kg of poppy is between 10, 00 Afghanis (175 U.S. dollars) and 15,000 Afghanis ( 263 U.S. dollars) at doorstep.

"I don't have any other permanent job and no regular income, I rent this land and plant poppy and from its harvest, I support my family," said Sallam.

The Afghan government, with the support of the international community, has been fighting hard to eliminate poppy cultivation in the country. However, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan remains as the world's largest poppy producing nation.

In fact, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013, the area where opium poppy is cultivated in Afghanistan has increased to 209,000 hectares from the previous year's total of 154,000 hectares, higher than the peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007.

In spite of government campaigns against illicit drugs, poppy cultivation seems growing this year in Kandahar province, according to officials in the provincial capital the Kandahar City.

"We are planning to start our campaign against drug and poppy farms in Zharay, Maiwand, Panjway and Shahwalikot districts of Kandahar in the coming days. We want to storm the farms with the help of security organs very soon," the Kandahar counter narcotic office director, Gul Mohammad Shukran, said.

According to the UNODC, Kandahar and the neighboring Helmand province, the former stronghold of Taliban fighters, are the major poppy producing provinces in Afghanistan.

Extracts from poppy seeds, the main components of opium, are clandestinely exported abroad, ultimately making its way to the United States, the world's biggest consumer of addictive drugs.

But with the unchecked poppy production in Afghanistan, it is not surprising that the number of drug addicts in the country has also gone up to nearly 2 million as of the last survey.

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