News / Europe

Britain Farmers Find Promise in a Crop Illegal in Afghanistan

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +
Amy Guttman

Farmers in Britain are harvesting a surprising new crop in an effort to combat a shortage of painkillers. It is a crop that is plentiful thousands of kilometers away in Afghanistan, but there, British and U.S. troops are trying to destroy it.

One field of opium poppies is just 90 minutes west of London. Recent dry springs and early summers in England are perfect for  poppies.

Farmers at more than 30 sites just like this all across England are growing them for a British pharmaceutical company to turn them into morphine and codeine.

But neither the farmers growing the poppies here nor the McFarlan Smith drug company want to talk about them -- worried about security and potential controversy.  One retired local farmer had this to say:

"It's probably a better crop than growing corn. They send their own men in combines and it's transported to the factory in about 24 hours. They're good crops," retired farmer Reg Brown said.

The National Health Service thinks so, and it  needs a steadier supply of opium poppies to combat a national shortage of painkillers. Indeed, there's a global shortage of drugs made from poppies, even though they're plentiful in Afghanistan.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke is director of the Royal United Services Institute, a British military and security organization.  "The Afghanistan poppy crop creates about 90 percent of the heroin which is traded in Europe," he said. "It accounts for well over 70 or 80 percent of Afghanistan's income."

And because all opium production in Afghanistan is illegal, even for medicinal use, the country's poppy fields are under attack -- part of a United Nations' eradication policy, backed by the U.S. and Britain.

"The eradication policy is there to try to break the link between criminality, insecurity and poverty inside Afghanistan," Clarke stated.

But while both the U.S. and Britain help to enforce the policy, they do not necessarily agree on the approach. "The Americans have tended to say, just eradicate the poppies whether people like it or not, just get rid of them.  The British have tended to say, 'If you do that, you'll make it all worse.'"

That's why British MP Frank Field says eliminating the Afghan poppy fields is counter-productive. "It gives the Taliban a hold over local people, it gives the Taliban a source of local income and it makes it easier for the Taliban to pick off our soldiers because of the lack of goodwill in villages," he explained.

Field prefers legalizing opium poppies in Afghanistan so crops can be taxed and exported, benefiting Afghan farmers, the Afghan government and the international community.

Two years ago, the late Richard Holbrooke, then the U.S. special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, considered the eradication policy a failure. "We're pushing farmers into the hands of the Taliban. It is the most wasteful and ineffective program I've seen in my 40 years in government," Holbrooke stated.

But Clarke says legalizing poppies in Afghanistan would create more problems. "It would be a drastic step to suddenly legitimize the Afghan poppy crop, which wouldn't be as simple as taking away poppies from Afghan farmers. It would actually create a revolution from inside Afghanistan which might create more instability than you could handle.// Some people say that unless you can address the poppy problem in Afghanistan, all other bets are off," he said. 

Meanwhile, here in the English countryside, fields of poppies grow, and no one wants to talk about them.

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid