[permaculture] alternatives to Poppies

Scott Pittman scott at permaculture.org
Mon Dec 17 19:10:56 EST 2007

I have always had difficulty with "export" as a solution to third world
problems; it is to my mind "a one step solution to a two step ditch".

In Afghanistan the farmers are living in what is essentially a feudal system
under tribal headmen.  The headmen get the big payoff while the farmers are
basically getting by.  The wealth accumulates in the hands of a few brutal
strongmen and makes its way to organizational despots like the Taliban, who
maintain a climate of repression in the name of Allah.

I don't think that a crop different from poppies (the precursor of heroin)
is going to change much without a major change in the system.  Afghan
president Kharsai, is part of that system and is as reluctant to change it
as are the Taliban. It seems what is needed are some models of
sustainability to point the way for farmers that it is possible for them to
determine their own fate and prosper without the traditional leaders riding
on their shoulders.

Of course this is an extremely difficult thing to do in a climate of terror,
when villagers are sandwiched between the violence of NATO on the one hand
and the Taliban on the other.  I don't see that there is any realistic
solution until the climate of fear and violence is somehow ended.  It is
great that people are concerned and want to find alternatives but I just
don't think that it is another commodity crop.

These are the kinds of situations that are a real challenge to a
permaculture designer and without actually going there and meeting with the
people and understanding their situation I don't think we can come up with
anything realistic.  Perhaps we should be offering permaculture courses to
the soldiers who are participating in this tragedy.

One promising model was initiated by the King of Thailand in Northwester
Thailand with the hill people near the Cambodian border.  He walked from
village to village asking the people what they needed in order to stop
growing opium poppies.  His concern was with the massive deforestation
taking place to grow the poppies and for the wellbeing of the people.  He
managed to enroll 150,000 tribesmen into a reforestation program along with
tropical fruit production to create an income and better nutrition.  I don't
see any way that this could have happened if the area was a battlefield as
it is in Afghanistan.

I realize I haven't come up with anything useful for the Lieutenant
returning to Afghanistan but I also wouldn't want to lead him down a path of

Scott Pittman
Permaculture Institute
-----Original Message-----
From: Robyn Francis [mailto:erda at nor.com.au] 
Sent: Monday, December 17, 2007 3:32 PM
To: permaculture
Subject: Re: [permaculture] alternatives to Poppies

The obvious crop, which has an ancient tradition in Aghanistan and was wiped
out by the Taliban, is hemp. There's a world shortage of hemp fibre,
fabrics, hempseed oil - as well as raw primary product there's potential for
village/cottage scale value adding to improve income from this crop. Somehow
I don't see the US military supporting growing of fibre hemp.

The problem for the farmers is they earn more from poppies than any food
crops that can be grown - the raw opium is harvested in the field, is not
bulky for transporting and earns well, which from the farmers perspective
make it an ideal crop especially for remote areas. The challenge is finding
crops that can be easily value added to reduce bulk and increase income.


On 18/12/07 3:30 AM, "roxann" <roxann at ancientearthwisdom.com> wrote:

> Hi All,
> Do any of you have suggestions as to what kinds of plants Afgans and
> can grow that will provide an income comparable to poppies? Someone from
> US military has asked me to do some research and see if there are herbs
> can help them get started growing with. He was interested in ginseng, but
> won't grow there. It has too specific a requirement and the profit in
> it comes from the Chinese demand for wild or wild appearing US roots and
> demand won't be the same for ginseng grown in fields. I am not familiar
> the growing conditions of that region of the world. Will the Indian
> herbs grow there? They want to grow something they can export to the
> market, I believe.
> Suggestions, information of any sort is welcome. If you would like to be
> listed as a contact (for consulting/info) in the packet of information I
> this Lieutenant, send me that as well.
> Thanks,
> Roxann, NW AR
> http://blog.ancientearthwisdom.com
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