Afghan farmers turn from drugs to fish

Nov 30, -0001
SARACHA, Afghanistan: Haji Anzurullah
grew opium in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province, but
under pressure from the authorities he gave up the illegal crop
and found a profitable alternative, fish breeding.
"I buy thousands of very small fish from Pakistan and rear
them here. Once they are big enough, I sell them to
fishmongers," said Anzurullah, who was trained in the fish
farming business by a foreign aid organisation that helps
villagers find alternative sources of income besides growing
Despite a 19 percent drop last year, Afghanistan still
produces over 9 percent of the world's opium, the raw
ingredient of heroin. Afghanistan's drug trade is believed to
inject some $3 billion a year into the Afghan economy and the
proceeds help fund the Taliban.
Last year, Nangarhar province went from being the second
biggest poppy growing province in the country to almost poppy
This is partly due to Nangarhar's powerful governor, Gul
Agha Sherzai, who has hinted at running in the Aug. 2
presidential election. Sherzai offers financial incentives to
farmers in his provinces and assistance to choose alternative,
legal forms of livelihoods, such as wheat farming or fish
If farmers resist, their poppy crops are destroyed.
After the government razed his crop, Anzurullah, head of
Saracha village on the outskirts of the provincial capital
Jalalabad, turned his two poppy fields into fish ponds where he
now rears more than 6, fish.
He pays just 1, afghanis ($2) for thousands of fish in
Peshawar, just across the nearby border in Pakistan. He then
grows them for about 1 months and sells them at a hefty
Counter-narcotics experts say the key requirement to reduce
opium cultivation is a strong government capable of carrying
through disincentives that outweigh the considerable profits to
be made from poppy farming.
Farmers also have to be persuaded that other crops can come
close to providing a comparable income to opium.
"Economic and development assistance alone is not
sufficient to defeat the narcotics trade in Afghanistan," said
a U.S. government report on narcotics issued in February.
"Alternative development opportunities can and do yield
reasonable incomes, but must also be backed by measures to
increase risk to those who plant poppy, traffic in narcotics,
and support cultivation and trafficking," it added.
Despite exhaustive counter-narcotics efforts in
Afghanistan, overall opium cultivation has grown dramatically
since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 21.
This is especially true in the south, where the Taliban has
launched an intensified insurgency against U.S.-led NATO troops
and government forces, financed with profits from opium,
including from record poppy crops in 26 and 27.
"Nearly all significant cultivation now occurs in insecure
areas with active insurgent elements," the U.S. report said.
The United Nations estimates that the Taliban and other
anti-government forces made between $2 to $4 million in
profits from drugs processing and trafficking in 28 and about
$5 to $7 million from 'tax payments' by opium farmers and
those involved in the drug trade.
Opium production did drop slightly last year, but experts
say that was probably more to do with the weather than any
other factor.
The drug crop is expected to fall again this year, but
factors such as the high wheat prices and a market glut of
opium have a bigger influence on farmers than international
efforts to convince growers to abandon the cash-crop.
"If the government helps generate fish farming and other
means of lawful income in Jalalabad, 5 percent of jobless
people will find jobs which can also help security," said
Hussain Safai, head of Nangarhar province's agriculture
New businesses such as fish farming are a good option in a
land-locked country where many people, especially those living
in more remote areas, rarely enjoy the taste of fish or
During Afghanistan's 3 years of war, grenades were
sometimes used to catch fish in rivers, but the explosives also
destroyed the fish spawn and so few fish are found in the wild
these days. Many rivers have also dried up due to years of
On weekends, families make the three-hour trip from Kabul
to a picnic spot just outside Jalalabad to eat at the dozens of
stalls selling fried fish.
"I came here with my family to have fresh fish for lunch,"
said Jawed Sultani, a doctor from Kabul. "Fish is a favourite
food for many Afghans."
Back on his fish farm, Anzurullah says he is pleased with
the success of his new business.
"It is a good business and very profitable, but nothing can
compare to the profit made from poppies," he said laughing.







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