What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Poppy policy

The MStFB Poppy Series No.4 Previous pieces: (1); (2); (3)
Before delving further into discussing the nasty problem with opium poppy production in Afghanistan, I'll first of all summarise what I have come up with so far as a hypothetical policy prescription (hypothetical, because I'm ready to revise all elements of it, not being an expert of the topic, and because I do acknowledge that it is the sort of issue that is as though it was created for bloggers to eternally blog about, being near impossible to fix by any other means than a firmly ruled totalitarian world state, which we don't want to see coming).
OK, so 'R' stands for 'recommendation' below.
R1: No eradication shall take place in the southern provinces that are hit by the insurgency the hardest, in order not to antagonise either small farmers, or seasonal agricultural migrant workers who would then be available to fight for the Taliban all year round, and with a more personal cause, actually. (ISAF does informally endeavour at times to follow this policy in Helmand by the way.)
R2: For the rest of Afghanistan - carry out a comprehensive analysis for the entire concerned area, dividing it up into practical units of analysis, taking account of large differences between, and the general significance in the Afghan context of, local communities. Call it a village-by-village approach, if you like.
R3: Based on such a comprehensive survey, identify communities that first of all need improved infrastructure, the ones that rely on opium production really because they have no other option if they want to sustain themselves - meaning villages, for example, that are still not connected by any road to the outside world (I mentioned the example of Zorabi in Baghlan province in one of my earlier posts). Then identify such communities that cannot have such an excuse for opium production, and seek out also the larger poppy fields, belonging to landlords, warlords or even government or provincial officials (there is no small overlap between these groups, of course). In the case of such fields, even large-scale eradication might be considered: even aerial spraying (which, done by internationals, could be aimed also at people other than the small farmers who are usually affected by Afghan eradication efforts the most), though not with the aim of completely wiping out opium production that way, but for it to work as a deterrent rather, affecting producers' calculations for the next season. (You know, I'm basically making the point here that one may find a silver or golden or whatever bullet, but it has to be a different bullet everywhere, a different one for each community or unit of analysis.)
Regarding the latter policy element: the 'reversing the great Afghan land grab' program (trying to give back land property to the legitimate owners who owned it before two and a half decades of war set in), hinted at by IWPR, if carried out with real determination, would antagonise too many warlords for comfort now, but some measures in that direction could also be an incentive for larger landowners to cooperate in not growing poppy.
Regarding R1, I'd also add that while Helmand and Kandahar may be producing a significant part of all the opium from Afghanistan (in 2005 they accounted for 37% of the total), in fact those southern areas yield less as in kilogram per hectare - poppy may be less needy a plant, but it likes rain-fed areas more, too. So that arguably is one more argument for such fields to be ignored for now.
Regarding aerial spraying, I can now make a more confident assessment of its usefulness, having read through the report by Solomon, Anadón, Cardeira, Marshall, and Sanin, titled 'Environmental and Human Health Assessment of the Aerial Spray Program for Coca and Poppy Control in Colombia', prepared for the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States. The mixture of glyphosate and Cosmo-Flux that they have focused on as the herbicide to be sprayed, apparently causes harm normally neither to wildlife, nor to human health. I'm no scientist to judge this, but so far I have no reason to question these researchers' competence. That is important, because the idea of aerial spraying is propagated more and more by the U.S. government, and is refused by the Afghan government on the basis of health concerns. In 2005 there was even some fuss by the Kabul leadership about investigating claims by some people that some foreign aircraft may have already carried out spraying on the sneak (see the BBC on this).
Now, one of the points made in the past by the Afghan ministry of health was that stream water may be polluted as a result of aerial spraying, and that that is a concern, because Afghans in the countryside drink stream water a lot. On the basis of the report I mentioned, however, stream water, since it is flowing fast, takes and thus disperses any herbicide sprayed over it rather quickly. There might be more concern, as to algae and some fish, in the case of shallow ponds near poppy fields - one can make either a survey on how many such ponds might be affected, or it actually could be a regular part of analysing reconnaissance info that always precedes any aerial spraying. A direct inhaling of a large amount of herbicide, e.g. by a farmer out in the poppy field when spraying takes place, could also be risky - not necessarily harmful, but potentially such. Normally, of course, a spraying campaign would take place so that farmers are notified beforehand of its coming. In the case of poppy eradication that understandably wouldn't be a practical idea, though. To counterbalance concerns about such risks, however, thought of the around 100,000 overdose deaths together with much drug-related violence occurring every year might perhaps be there on our mind - up to you to judge that. The 100,000 figure cited is of course merely an estimate, much like the other figure one always hears about Afghan opium production, that it makes up 'some 90 percent' of the supply on the world market (which obviously is also just an estimate, just like when some people, including UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa, are saying now that Afghan opium production may exceed world demand by around 30 percent - while of course poppy isn't produced only in Afghanistan).
Of course causing any kind of risk to the Afghan populace is something that can only be justified if meanwhile we do everything we can to reduce demand in Western countries. That is not to say that the drugs trade is only a problem for the West, though, with there being about a million addicts (RAWA cites UNODC on that) in Afghanistan, too, but still it's definitely an important part of the 'mission' in Afghanistan, if we want to conceptualise one for ourselves. So the solution cannot be exclusively Afghan, either. Aerial spraying, which, as I said, would likely be done by internationals, and thus might have the important effect of not hurting small farmers mostly, is in fact neither even practical, nor cost-effective when used on the smallest pieces of land where one wants to eradicate some crop. It's useful specifically on larger fields.
OK, this is by no means the end of the story, but this is just a blogpost, so I'll have to drop it somewhere. Bye.
Update: I can't just drop it like that. I should probably point out, to be clear, that the aerial spraying campaign, if it doesn't want to end up ignoring the really large poppy fields in an accomodation of local power-brokers, will then have to go ahead trying to handle the poppy issue not for the entire country at once, but rather for a selection of provinces that should be chosen (similarly to how Nangarhar was picked out in 2004-2005, though more concern should be shown for small farmers in upcoming campaigns than was shown in that Nangarhar one, so the parallel regarding the approach to be taken doesn't extend that far). As to those provinces that are selected for a first round of the campaign, a backup presence of ISAF forces could be needed. Arguably a good chance for more risk-averse NATO members to do something significant in relatively calmer areas of Afghanistan, perhaps by sending there more troops for this task...

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