Opium Wars

Friday, February 18, 2011

Robert Draper, National Geographic magazine contributing writer, talks about Afghanistan's opium war and why weaning Afghan farmers off growing poppies is a key step to securing peace in the region. His article, “Opium Wars,” appears in the February issue of National Geographic.

Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic
The Hindu Kush mountains create hellish terrain for International Security Assistance Force troops but offer protection for poppy farmers and hidden highways for smugglers.

Illicit trade routes deliver opium to Russia and Europe; with 1.5 million addicts, Russia is the largest consumer of heroin.

Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic
Afghan police use sticks to destroy a poppy field in Badakhshan Province. Despite such efforts, Afghanistan is the world's top opium supplier.



Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic
Marines unload fertilizer in the Marjah district of Helmand Province as part of a program encouraging farmers to renounce poppies for alternative crops like corn and beans.

The goal is to bolster agriculture rather than destroy poppy fields.

Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic
Sunlight pours through shrapnel holes in a shipping container in Kabul's Old City, where users gather for a hit of opium.

Eight percent of Afghans are addicted to drugs, often opium or heroin, a rate that has risen sharply in the past five years. Only one in ten addicts receives any drug treatment, because programs are rare and underfunded.

Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic
Poppies are illegal to grow but more lucrative for Afghan farmers than most other crops. At harvest, each bulb is scored to release a purplish gum.

Once dry, the resin is scraped off with a metal tool and formed into raw opium bricks.

Courtesy of David Guttenfelder/National Geographic
Read more about the opium wars in the recently issued February Edition of National Geographic.


Robert Draper

Comments [7]

Rafaela Persson from Sweden

I am a freelance photographer who has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, among other stories I have worked on a photo essay about drug addicted women and children in Kabul.
Please check it out

Feb. 23 2011 02:34 PM
Carlos Eduardo Carvalho from Brazil

Where is the the real problem? In Afghanistan or in Russia and Europe? We need understand the problem involve others countries too.

Feb. 19 2011 05:41 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Would it be possible for the police (or troops, or whoever it is) to bring the seeds for the alternative crops with them when they come to destroy the poppies? What would it take to make that happen? Where along the line are the seeds the farmers are promised being kept from reaching them?

Feb. 18 2011 12:36 PM
Gil from Wilton, Ct

Why does not the US simply buy the poppy crop and destroy it?

Feb. 18 2011 12:35 PM
A listeneR

where does the united states rank in terms of global consumers of heroin?

Feb. 18 2011 12:29 PM
Phil Henshaw from way uptown

Leonard, I think Robert Draper directly said, though the implication somehow missed, that the world production of opium poppy moved to Afghanistan to fund the Taliban war against the US invasion.

Isn't that right, what he actually said? Makes sense doesn't it? That'd be a good reason for the Taliban to violate the teachings of their own faith and disobey their own law, to oppose the intrusion of an alien culture?

So, whether we like it or not it seems it was the US that brought poppy to Afghanistan.

Feb. 18 2011 12:23 PM
Amy from Manhattan

How many species (or varieties?) of poppy produce opium?

I know about Sarah Chayes's Arghand cooperative & the products they make from local products, but what other efforts are being made & what would it take to expand them to the point where Afghan farmers could afford to stop raising opium poppies?

Feb. 18 2011 12:19 PM

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