Pubdate: Fri, 07 Dec 2007
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Anna Bawden
Bookmark: (Poppy)


The US government has conceded defeat in its attempt to persuade the 
Afghanistan government to begin the aerial destruction of poppy 
fields as part of its opium eradication strategy.

"We have decided to stop pursuing the aerial spraying of poppy fields 
in Afghanistan," said Thomas Schweich, principal deputy assistant 
secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law 
Enforcement Affairs.

US officials have climbed down in the face of widespread criticism 
from the Afghan government and other coalition partners, notably the UK.

Although attempting to destroy poppy crops from the ground can be 
dangerous, the Afghan government is against the use of aerial 
spraying because of fears about the herbicide glyphosate's effect on 
the environment, other smaller crops and on health.

"The United States has always indicated that we would not pursue any 
counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan that did not have the full 
support of the government of Afghanistan," said a spokeswoman in the 
US State Department.

"While we believe there are advantages to using aerial spray to 
augment existing eradication programmes, president Karzai is on 
record opposing the use of aerial spray and we respect his decision 
in this matter."

The decision was met with widespread approval. "We agree with the 
Afghanistan government that the best way forward is through the 
building up of law enforcement, treating addiction and providing 
alternative livelihoods," said a spokesman at the Foreign Office.

Schweich, now touring Europe to explain the change in policy and to 
drum up support for other counter-narcotics initiatives, wants to 
"dramatically expand" the so-called Good Performers Intiative, which 
pays communities to finance local infrastructure if they cease poppy farming.

The thirteen provinces declared poppy free in August will each 
receive $500,000 (UKP 244,000) in development assistance. Next year, 
this is set to rise to $1m.

The US and UK governments have allocated over $25m for the 
initiative. The US administration wants to go further and has already 
asked Congress for an additional $50m.

Schweich hopes to persuade other countries, including Germany, 
Belgium, Denmark and Austria to support the programme. "I hope we can 
get to over $100m," he said.

But the US is still committed to destroying poppy fields.

"Gound-based eradication ... will continue, but the decision on 
whether to proceed with ground-based spraying is still under 
discussion with the government of Afghanistan," said the US State 
Department spokeswoman.

Reducing the country's reliance on the opium trade will be difficult. 
Afghanistan's poppy harvest this year is expected to be 17% bigger 
than that recorded in 2006, according the UN Office on Drugs and 
Crime. The country produces 93% of world's heroin supplies, worth around $4bn.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom