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AFGHANISTAN: Interview with female opium farmer

KANDAHAR, 9 Sep 2004 (IRIN) - Poppy cultivation remains the leading high-income business in Afghanistan, partly because many poverty stricken farmers say it is the only means of survival open to them. In an interview with IRIN, Bibi Deendaray, a 55-year widow, cultivating opium in the Dand district of the southern city of Kandahar, said she supported her 20-member family through poppy cultivation. The woman, who farms under a hectare of land, said in the absence of any alternative livelihood, she was faced with no choice but to grow the illegal crop.

IRIN/Chris Horwood
Many destitute women in Afghanistan rely on opium
farming to feed themselves and their families

QUESTION: Why do you cultivate poppy, knowing that it is an illicit crop?

ANSWER: Well, this is a normal business here and I cultivate it to support my big family. In fact I should say it is not an illicit crop but rather a blessing which saves the lives of my children, grandchildren and two widowed daughters. In general, it is the only means of survival for thousands of women-headed households, women and children in our village whose men are either jobless or were killed during the war.

Q: Is it difficult for you as a woman to deal with poppy cultivation, harvesting and finally selling the production?

A: Yes, it is very difficult. Therefore, I share a portion of my land with a male farmer who then has to do the labouring work. However, I oversee the work on a daily basis. He cannot cheat me as I have been doing this business for the last 11 years.

Q: Aren't you afraid that you will be punished for cultivating an illegal crop?

A: Well, I know the government has announced the eradication of poppy fields but if they come to my land I will show them my barefoot orphan grandchildren and widowed daughters who have no one to support them and bring them food and medicine. Just today, the government eradication teams came to our village and they did not destroy my field when I told them I was a widow and had children. However they eradicated 50 percent of other people's poppy fields.

Q: How has poppy affected your village's social life?

A: Poppy has very deep roots in all the affairs of life here. You have to deal with poppy, whether it is for wedding party expenses or a mourning ceremony. People even have to give a certain amount of poppy or a portion of a poppy field as a marriage dowry. The more poppy fields you have, the more status you have in the community. People respect you and they loan you as much money as you want.

Q: What is your annual revenue and what do you do with that money?

A: It varies. This year I expect to harvest over six kilos of opium poppy, which will be around $3,000. I have to dig a deep well of my own and get a diesel water pump for next year's season, while I still have to take into consideration the requirements of my 20-member family's expenses for one year, which is more than my income from poppy.

Q: What will you cultivate as an alternative crop or alternative choice if the government completely bans poppy cultivation?

A: I don't think any plant can work as a suitable alternative to poppy. Due to drought, people cannot cultivate large portions of land with wheat or other crops to make a living. Poppy needs just a small piece of land with not too much water. And most of the people have very small pieces of land from which they can never earn a good income if anything else is cultivated except poppy.

I think men should be assisted to find jobs and other professions. But for rural women like me, we cannot run other businesses. I think that if we are provided with food and medicine and a regular assistance until our children grow up, that will work.

Q: Are you aware of the risks of poppy, which threatens millions of people in the world?

A: Yes, my brother-in-law become addicted in Peshawar and parted from his family and nice children. But I should say that poverty is a more serious threat to millions of already vulnerable people like us. If we have a good road, electricity, water and food then we would not cultivate poppy.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 9/14/04 ... --

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