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Opium poppy cultivation in Balkh and Badakhshan Provinces in Summary: While Balkh and Badakhshan have very different geographical, social, political, and historical contexts, it is hard to identify any factors which could significantly reduce cultivation of opium poppy in either province in the foreseeable future.
In Balkh, some of the coercive approaches which have reduced opium poppy cultivation are not sustainable in the longer-term, especially where they go against the economic conditions prevailing in the rural economy.
In Badakhshan, a half-hearted coercion has produced uneven results. In the context of the security transition, it is an open question as to whether the Afghan government and its international partners, preoccupied with other issues e. Household-level field research done during May in farming communities in two districts in Balkh Chimtal, Char Bolak and Badakhshan Jurm, Khash which had a history of opium poppy cultivation, revealed very different dynamics within the opium economy.
In Balkh, analysis confirmed the role of state presence and coercion in suppressing opium poppy cultivation as well as the correlation of cultivation with insecurity, with poppy concentrated in areas inaccessible to the government.
It is also possible that in Balkh causality runs in both directions, and that at least some of the insecurity in areas in which opium poppy is found is the result of stresses and grievances connected with the suppression of cultivation. Among surveyed households, the number who reported growing poppy doubled from the previous year and the area devoted to poppy increased from four to ten percent of total area sown.
Unlike in Balkh, where there has been one dominant leader who has been both motivated and capable of suppressing cultivation in most areas of the province, in Badakhshan power has been more contested and fragmented among local commanders and power holders, who have shown little interest in reducing cultivation, trafficking, and other illicit activities.
While farming conditions in the spring of were much more promising than the previous year, analysis confirmed the importance of off-farm income in household livelihoods.
Labour opportunities and wages in Balkh, especially Mazar-e Sharif the provincial centre of Balkhwere much more plentiful than during the previous drought year.
Meanwhile, in Badakhshan labourers were struggling to find work due to the delay in the start of the construction season. While Badakhshan continues to be considered a drug transit route, this activity does not generate the same widespread incomes as did the extensive cultivation of the mids.
With the political and security situation now on an unknown trajectory, reductions in cultivation may be more difficult to achieve or maintain, especially in an unstable or contested environment.
The enormous pressure on power holders and aspirants, already understood to be preparing for post instability, to conclude local deals in order to control an area or resources will reduce incentives to adhere to national policies where such policies run up against local interests.
In Balkh, which has served as a successful model not just of elimination of opium poppy but also economic development under a strong provincial administration, the shifting of emphasis from Kabul and from the international community may reduce the sorts of political incentives that have until now made it worth imposing unpopular policies.
The anticipated contraction in the national economy due to the withdrawal of international spending and reduction in local investor confidence may reduce both household livelihoods opportunities and sources of patronage for power holders.
Finally, given the dependence of so many households on off-farm income, pressure to relax the suppression of cultivation may rise in proportion to the anticipated contraction of the economy and the reduction in opportunities for work-related migration in the region.
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