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Coffee for Opium and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force

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President Obama has argued that the war on terror has been misguided and that US military forces should have focused on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. In addition to the likelihood that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself during our military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan is quickly becoming the global exporter of opium.

In attempting to curb the spread of opium production in Afghanistan, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has recognized that opium production easily generates the capital needed for al Qaeda and Taliban extremist to continue waging their terrorist operations.

There is, however, great debate in the role the ISAF plays in the eradication of poppy crops throughout Afghanistan. There is a double bind in restricting or altogether destroying poppy crops. Granted, it is clear that opium sales have contributed — as a primary funding source for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations — to the empowerment of their war against the West. But in expressly destroying these crops, crops grown by the poorest of Afghan farmers, what resources is the ISAF providing for these farmers.

Simply destroying poppy crops is an act in futility if Afghan farmers aren’t given an alternative cash crop, thereby offering incentives to grow cash crops rather than participate in the production of opium. Granted there is exploitation in the production of coffee the world over, but with the modernization of coffee production, and the availability of nearly limitless sunlight, Afghanistan could be an ideal coffee exporter.

It would be my suggestion that NGOs could educate Afghan farmers on the benefits of coffee production, which would enable them to begin the process of transforming their poppy production into coffee production. The more Afghan farmers take control of their crops, the more an international community of futures traders will need to account for a viable new source of coffee production.

Moreover, with an increased supply of coffee originating from Afghan fields, the global price of coffee would drop drastically. Now, it is certain that for multibillion dollar coffee manufactures, the addition of Afghan coffee to the global supply, would certainly be bad for business, which is exactly why Afghan farmers should shift to coffee production.

Rather than merely destroying their crops, the ISAF should educate Afghan farmers on a variety of methods for cultivating coffee beans and subsidize their cost of living, until the crop cycle can be independently sustained.

The production of coffee, then, could serve as a viable alternative to the opium production and it would have the added benefit of dropping global coffee prices. For these reasons, the ISAF should incentivise the production of coffee.

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About Jason J. Campbell

  • Dick Scott

    Most of Afghanistan’s opium is produced in Helmand province and most of that is produced in central Helmand with the biggest irrigation system in the country (mostly built with US funding between 1946-79)with adequate water from the Helmand River with 40% of the country’s runoff, reasonable sized land holdings, the result of a land settlement program in the 50s-60s, and smart double cropping, cash crop farmers who continue to cultivate their traditional cash crops of cotton, peanuts, vegetables, melons and wheat…as well as opium poppy.They already have cash crops that they know and prefer and have been asking us for help with the marketing but age generally ignored. Of course, lots of development funds have been spent in the area but on many projects that do not directly benefit the target population of farmers, most of the people. A new airport, women’s gardens, a cobblestone road to a tourist site, cold storage units that have never been activated, and on and on. For 10 years they have been asking for specific things to get out of opium cultivation, which they all consider an”evil” crop but with a good marketing system. Improve the irrigation system and the infrastructure that supports it, farm to market roads,use hand labor for most of the work putting the very large farm labor force in the region to work, specifically help with the price of cotton that they consider an important alternative crop to poppy. The government cotton gin in Lashkar Gah was built by the British in the mid-1960s with US ginning equipment and is the primary and the most convenient market for this crop. Set up an agricultural credit system..a must for a cash crop region. The illegal opium trade has an informal but functioning credit system. These farmers that produce a high percentage of the total opium are not poor or at a subsistence level. Most can tell you today’s wheat,cotton and yes opium prices on the local market. They don’t need new crops.(And I doubt that coffee would grow in this region with 4+inches of rain a year and summer temperatures at over 100F by May.) They need help with the crops they still grow and prefer and have been ignored for 1 years. The political situation we face in Helmand today is to some great extent of our own making. (I have been working in and studying Central Helmand off and on since 1971)

  • pablo

    A naive article at best. The CIA has been in the business of importation of opiates for decades, and the UK has been in the business of opiate addiction for several centuries. One only needs to do a google search on cia and heroin to find the relevant information on the criminals who are in the business of spreading opiate addiction around the world, and funding black ops.

  • Sheesh, Pablo. Think of all the money the CIA saves taxpayers by funding so many of its operations itself. I wish more of our government agencies were that resourceful.


  • Brunelleschi

    I am pretty sure this idea is already started, but with pomegranates, not coffee.

    Buy pomegranates for freedom!


  • Franco

    Well if Dick Scott in post #1 really knows what he is talking about (as it clearly appears to have the ring of both experiace and truth to it) then our professional philosopher and political analyst Jason J. Campbell, with all due respect, needs to go back the to drawing board, or challage Mr. Scott.

    What say you Jason?

  • Brunelleschi

    I like to monitor the Afghanistan situation here:

    Afghanistan Conflict Monitor

  • Franco,

    Not so sure where Dick Scott’s getting his info but anyway it was interesting to read. I’ll provide a link then I’m gone, but first a quote from the link:

    “We need to provide Afghan farmers with an
    alternative. The other crops do not provide the same rate of return
    to those farmers. I believe we should explore arranging to pay
    above-market prices for the non-narcotic agricultural produce of
    opium-producing areas of Afghanistan. At a minimum, we could
    pay for the transportation of these non-narcotic agricultural goods
    to markets, whether they be domestic, in Afghanistan, or anywhere
    around the world. It will be a lot easier to convince an Afghan
    farmer to grow coffee or tea or whatever else can be exported if
    they are able to sell it not for the low price available in Afghanistan,
    but for the price that can be obtained when that produce
    reaches its ultimate market.”

    You can access the full document here. page 23.

    I would suggest that he read the Committe on international relations/ “Afghanistan: Five Years after 9/11”

  • Clavos

    It seems to me that the flaw in that thinking, Jason, is the assumption that the price of opium is static, when in reality, the price of opium, like any other commodity, reacts to the relationship between supply and demand.

    If the the plan to subsidize Afghan poppy growers to grow commodities whose prices will then compete with the price they get for the poppies is successful, then, inevitably, the price of opium on the open market will begin to rise concomitantly with the scarcity of opium, to the inevitable point when growing poppies will once again be more profitable than growing other crops.

    The only sure way to stop the trafficking in drugs is to eliminate the demand. The better solution is to legalize (thus control) and tax the marketing of drugs.

  • Excellent point Clavos! You’re right. I would just add that coffee is the second most actively traded commodity see stats (a little dated) 2004 here. pg. 100 (103 of 150) column 4, with 3,033,842 traded contracts in ’03 and 4,039,591 in ’04. As the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT) demonstrates, its a 100 billion dollar (yearly) enterprise. If the farmers could tap into this money its certainly a point of debate whether they could make more selling dope. But you’re absolutely correct if they can they will, which is why NGOs should help in brokering a deal so they can get paid. You create a niche market for Afghan coffee and can broker higher rates, which will eventually stabilize but at least its an alternative. But very good point.

  • Brunelleschi

    Clavos is quite right on the drug trafficking issue.

    Let’s hope this effort stays under NATO’s tent.

    If it doesn’t and the US decides to shove them out of the way, this situation has interesting memabilities.

    What was supposed to be “Get OBL and the bad guys” may start to look like a Banana republic story, only coffee instead. Here we go again!

    I know how to predict US thinking and behavior from there, but if I say anymore, it will just make people mad. 🙂

    One thing for sure, Afghanistan is a stubborn, violent place, with weak political institutions. What if coffee barons develop and become violent, take land, people disappear, etc while the product moves and money is made when barons make deals with private interests? I know one nation that will say this was a victory for freedom. ya think?

    If OBL were caught tomorrow and Al Qaeda rounded up or dissolved, would the US pull out satisfied that its stated intent for going there was accomplished and wish NATO good luck with it’s project? Or will the US stick around and want to shape the coffee republic for its own reasons, even if it has to look the other way when bodies pile up?

  • Dick Scott

    Sorry for the delay in response. I lost the connection.
    My info comes from first hand experience in Helmand as Research and Evaluation officer for USAID, 1971-78. Starting up a State Dept. narcotics related project (rehabilitation of the Boghra Canal)under the Taliban 1998-99, and four other rehab projects, including the cotton gin, between 2002 and 2005. Most info on farmer views coming from them including men I have known since the early 70s.
    One typo in the first note. Third line from the bottom should read “10” not “1”.

  • Refresh my memory, guys. Did not the Taliban ban poppy cultivation when they were in power? I vaguely remember reading that somewhere.

    If that is true, then the net result so far of the invasion of Afghanistan appears to be that heroin in the West is now more widely and cheaply available than for many years. How is such a large quantity of drugs getting out of such a heavily militarised country with such ease? Is Pablo right?

  • “Did not the Taliban ban poppy cultivation when they were in power?”

    They did. And the U.S. agreed to turn a blind eye to get the support of the warlords.

    As per pablo’s claims, I don’t know, but the CIA was aware that Nicaraguans imported crack and coke to fund missions the CIA approved of. Gary Webb reported it and the book “Kill the Messenger” also covers it

  • Another important book by Gary Webb, since we’re on the subject – Dark Alliance.

  • pablo

    Rest in Peace Gary Webb, you are missed.

  • Thomas

    Not BAD enough, that NATO and crew are fighting their “war on terror” on THE GRAVEYARD of EMPIRES..

    Yaa gotta LOVIT AND now dey gonna mix in another un-WINABLE war too….. The DRUG WAR !!!!!!

    Dey is BRIBING everyone in sight too….. Pleeze don’t shoot us……here weel PAY-YA….


  • Rizwan Awan

    Have you ever been “physically” to Afghanistan/Northern Pakistan to see/judge things with clear brain and naked eyes or just you’re teenaged bloggers killing time online?

    My dear fellows, Opium is a weapon. Many “so-called” super powers were used to make their hands dirty in it. There still are countries taking help with this weapon.

    As far as Afghani farmers are concerned, they grow it because it is the best priced cash crop. To discourage the Opium cultivation, only way is to make our Govts stop playing with humanity anymore.

    Otherwise, everything is just media BS and political statements.

    There is no will so far, otherwise Opium would have gone.

    And BTW, above comments are ‘somewhat’ from actual farmers or from residents.

  • Rizwan Awan

    and yes, NATO and Company is doing things better.

    Opium trade which was 185 Ton in Taliban’s power is now 5,800.