KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban make Afghanistan’s opium business easy, offering credit, seeds, and fertilizer to farmers to grow the drugs that fuel the insurgency.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who wrapped up a three-day visit to Afghanistan yesterday, is determined to change that momentum by offering similar incentives to steer farmers away from the drug trade and toward grapes, wheat, and other legitimate crops.
“If the Taliban offer something, you have to be able to beat it with something else,’’ he said.
Farmers say they make five times more money growing poppies than wheat from the same amount of land.
The United States has pushed agricultural reforms to the top of its nonsecurity agenda as part of President Obama’s increased focus on stabilizing the country. Vilsack, who was making his sixth visit to Afghanistan in his current job, acknowledged obstacles, including the lack of credit facilities and poor coordination between Afghanistan’s central government and 34 provinces.
The US administration has reversed a Bush-era policy of destroying poppy crops in Afghanistan in favor of promoting legal crops. But officials have said the tactic has done little to reduce the flow of drug money.
Vilsack defended the US efforts. He pointed to incentives offered last year in Helmand Province, which produces more than 50 percent of the world’s poppy. Farmers were offered wheat seeds and fertilizer at a reduced cost and the poppy crop was reduced by a third, he said, adding the initiative could be extended to nut trees and fruit and vegetable production.