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  • David Mansfield

"We inform all farmers that poppy cultivation isn’t allowed after today"

“We inform all farmers…that, poppy cultivation isn’t allowed after today. If anyone cultivates poppy, their land will be eradicated & the person arrested by the government. In addition: use, trade, transport, production, import and export of all types of drugs…isn’t allowed”

This is like travelling back more than 20 years without any of the benefits of youth. As with the Taliban ban before, it seems to be more about geopolitics and leveraging development assistance -perhaps more so now given that the poppy harvest is in full swing.

The conditions are remarkably similar to the ban they announced in July 2000 that led to negligible cultivation in 2001: drought, an economic crisis, a massive shortfall in UN development monies & condemnation of what was considered a pariah regime.

It is only the point in the agricultural season in which the ban has been announced that is different. Last time the ban was announced 5 months prior to planting, this time 5 months after!

It seems very unlikely this will be enforced this season given harvest has already begun.

It is, after all, far harder to press farmers and destroy their crop when they have already invested considerable time and resources and are bringing the crop in.

It’s not just opium they smell, it’s cash and what it buys after a cold winter of rising food prices and economic crisis.

Announcing a ban at this stage offers no time for a replacement crop and with a potential dry spring/summer ahead and falling disposable income there are few viable options even for those in better irrigated areas-let alone in former desert land where little is grown in the summer.

As such, this ban is more akin to that on the ephedra crop that the Taliban announced in December 2021: a definite case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted given that the harvest was already in. The result was the pump priming of the meth industry.

Given how unlikely it is this ban will be enforced at this point in the 21/22 season we should see this announcement as an attempt to recast the political debate: to distract from the things the Taliban government doesn’t want to talk about - girls education & human rights.

An effort to put pressure on the international community to respond to what will be portrayed as the Taliban’s act of “altruism”-banning drugs used by others: a favour to the world. To press the donors for recognition, provide development assistance and lessen economic sanctions.

To react in such a way would be unwise. There may be reasons to provide assistance & ease sanctions but it would be foolish to revisit past mistakes and trade development assistance for drug reductions - it’s been done so many times before in Afghanistan and never ends well.

Being repeatedly placed “over a barrel” is neither comfortable nor helpful when it comes to addressing the development needs of Afghanistan’s farmers and adopting a strategy that threatens to further impoverish the population unless assistance is given is particularly cynical.

Nor can so called “alternative development” projects deliver effective change for farmers in the midst of wider and deeper economic crisis. Throwing money at “AD” would simply be good money after bad. A sop at best, worse a reward for political expediency

I have an idea. Let’s get off the hamster’s wheel and start learning from the past not simply documenting it then repeating it again and again and again.

Alas it would require some reading. Shame.


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