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As Aid Runs Out, Afghan Farmers Return to Poppy

There's a new push to eradicate Afghanistan's opium crop. Foreign aid is meant to ease the country's economic dependency on poppy harvests. And President Hamid Karzai is pressuring provincial governors to crack down on the drug trade.

But Afghan farmers complain that no one is helping them. Many farmers who gave up their poppy crops last year say they are now planting them again.

One farmer, Jamal, recalls how his family's farmlands outside Mazar e Sharif used to be covered with opium poppies as far as the eye can see. And he pledges to grow them again.


He says that he and other farmers in this province — one of only a handful in Afghanistan where opium poppy production went down in 2006 — are fed up with empty government promises of aid and reconstruction.

Jamal says it's worth the risk of ending up in jail or having their crops destroyed. While farmers have been known to complain before, Western and Afghan officials are concerned it may nevertheless signal a slip in the progress they've made in curbing poppy crops and opium production in Afghanistan, despite widespread corruption and a ban on spraying.

Western officials here say they are not surprised by the farmers' frustration, adding that rebuilding Afghanistan takes time. They predict getting rid of Afghanistan's opium problem will take even longer.

Jamal insists that he and other farmers are not trying to hurt their country by rejoining the annual, $3-billion-a year opium trade. He also denies government claims that the farmers are being pressured by drug dealers to return to poppy planting. Jamal says farmers are simply trying to survive.

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