Britain leads a £1-billion-a-year international programme to eradicate illicit opium production in Afghanistan by destroying farmers’ poppies and persuading them to grow other crops. As an anti-narcotics strategy, this programme is a demonstrable failure. In terms of counter-terrorism, it is a disaster. But a scheme unveiled this week can, finally, offer some hope.
I don’t see anywhere who’s taking the credit for all this sensible unveiling.
There are precedents. In Turkey and India, the illicit trade has been channelled into licensed production for medicinal purposes. The US Government objects that Afghanistan’s weak Government could never insulate “legal” production from the drugs chain.
Which is a deterioration of the current situation how?
But at village level, the country’s traditional shuras, or councils, exercise powerful systems of social control. This week the Senlis Council, an independent medical research organisation based in France, came up with a scheme to involve them in legal morphine production.
The key feature of “Poppies for Medicine” is to create village industries that turn opium into medicine in local factories. All profits would go to the community, giving the shuras of the participating villages a strong vested interest in preventing diversion to traffickers and turning informer against the drug barons. The idea is to select clusters of five to ten villages and sign contracts with the shuras. The shuras would guarantee each village’s committed participation, decide what land to cultivate, employ harvesters, guards, record-keepers and informants, and ensure that the whole village shared in the benefits. The shuras would be responsible for monitoring production and punishing individuals caught diverting opium. Failure to do so would lose the village its licence.
Because the price of morphine medicines is far higher than for raw opium, the scheme would boost incomes and local tax revenues and give villagers a future within the law, worth fighting the drug barons to secure. It would take raw opium out of the supply chain. At the other end of the benefit scale, cheap Afghan morphine pills could be exported, much like generic HIV/Aids drugs, to countries that could not otherwise afford them.
And if there’s one thing I’m in favour of, it’s morphine-based narcotics. The sunny side of every mishap to befall you.