Adding spice to Afghan drug war

This Afghan woman is among many picking saffron flowers from a field on the outskirts of Herat city last Friday.

For years, Afghanistan has tried to give farmers alternatives, such as fruit crops and saffron, to wean them off poppy farming - the lifeblood of the Taleban insurgency.

The Taleban, which banned poppy cultivation when it ruled Afghanistan, now appears to wield significant control over the war-torn country's heroin production line, providing insurgents with billions of dollars, officials told Agence France-Presse.

Farmers are paid about US$163 (S$220) for 1kg of the black sap - the raw opium that oozes out of poppy seed pods when they are slit with a knife. Once it is refined into heroin, the Taleban sells it in regional markets for between US$2,300 and US$3,500 a kilogram.

International donors have spent billions of dollars on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade, but those efforts have shown little results.

Mr William Brownfield, US Assistant Secretary for Drugs and Law Enforcement, said: "More than 90 per cent of all heroin consumed in the US is of Mexican origin. But in Canada, more than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed is of Afghan origin."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Adding spice to Afghan drug war'. Print Edition | Subscribe