Growing opium is hardly worth the risk any more for Dost Mohammad, a farmer in Helmand, a province of Afghanistan which by itself produces almost enough opium to satisfy all the heroin addicts on earth.
“Opium farmers benefit nothing from the crops and spend their day and night in misery,” he told Reuters.
“We spend six months in the field working hard, then the government can destroy it in a single day.”
According to the United Nations, prices for opium have plummeted in Afghanistan, causing farmers to switch to other crops, a rare bit of good news for Western efforts in a country where an 8-year-old war is at its most violent.
The paste, produced from the bulbous pods of the poppy flower, is refined to produce heroin and exported around the world.
Two years ago, a farmer growing opium could earn 10 times as much as a farmer growing wheat on the same piece of land. Today, it is only worth three times as much. For many, that means producing the drugs is no longer worth the risk or effort.
According to the U.N.’s annual report into Afghanistan’s drug harvest, 800,000 Afghans abandoned the trade this year. Opium, which accounted for 27 percent of Afghanistan’s economy in 2002, now accounts for just 4 percent.