by Abdul Haleem, Abdul Aziz Safdari
GERESHK, Afghanistan, April 8 (Xinhua) -- "Trust me, I don't like to cultivate poppy and earn livelihood through producing opium poppy and other illicit drugs, but the current atmosphere and extreme poverty have forced me to do the easy, profitable and illegal business," said Habib Agha, a farmer in Gereshk district of the restive Helmand province.
Inspecting his poppy farm and cleansing unwanted plants, Agha told Xinhua recently that the business of growing opium poppy and processing it into heroin is forbidden by law.
However, extreme poverty has driven him and many other villagers to the poppy fields and heroin labs to earn a crust for their families living in insurgency-plagued areas, he said.
A former stronghold of Taliban and the hotbed of the armed militants currently, the troubled Helmand province been the scene of fierce fighting between government forces and armed insurgents over the past few years.
A survey conducted by Afghan Ministry for Counter-Narcotics and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime and released in October revealed 43 percent increase in the opium products in 2016 against the poppy produced in 2015.
According to the survey, Afghanistan had produced 4,800 tons of opium poppy in 2016 while the illegal crop harvested in 2015 amounted to 3,300 tons.
The share of the restive Helmand province in producing poppy, according to Afghan officials, is more than any other provinces in Afghanistan over the past few years.
More areas would go under poppy cultivation and the product output would increase this year in the restive Helmand, according to the poppy growing farmers, as they believe that the Taliban militants have gained more grounds in the conflict-battered province.
"Poppy cultivation is common in Taliban controlled areas," another farmer Abdul Razaq said.
He said the Taliban militants have imposed taxes and take one maan from five maan as tax from the poppy harvested by the farmers.
One maan equals to 4.5 kg, with the price of about 745 U.S. dollars to 1,400 U.S. dollars, depending on the quality, according to Razaq. In contrast, he said the price for one maan wheat nowadays is 1.86 U.S. dollars.
To increase his poppy output, Razaq has installed solar power system on water pumps to generate more water and irrigate more lands.
"Two to three times annually I cultivate and harvest poppy from my land and each time I can earn 50,000 afghanis (740 U.S. dollars) from one acre land on average," the veteran farmer said.
However, spokesman for Helmand provincial administration Omar Zawak has expressed the government's firm resolve in fighting illegal drug.
"We are determined to soon launch anti-poppy campaign in areas under government control to eradicate the menace and would also utilize all possible means to destroy poppy farms under the Taliban control," said the spokesman.