Crime & Justice

Tracing the dragon

Khogyani (Afghanistan)/Tehran/Baltimore (US), Dec 5 (efe-epa).- A peasant extracts resin from poppy in Afghanistan in order to sell it and feed his family. In Iran a border patrol chases the opium produced by the plant to prevent it from being sold in the country or shipped elsewhere in the world. In Baltimore, United States, a 55-year-old man — who has been consuming heroin since the age of 11 — seeks help at a mobile medical center parked outside a prison.

It all begins inside a flower.


It is 4.30 am and Amrullah Khan prays at his house before visiting his poppy field. He lives in the restive Khogyani district of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. Amrullah learned to farm from his father, who in turn was taught by his own father. Now he has trained his own children in the art of cultivating this banned plant, beginning when they were just around 10 years old. He is just one of the around 590,000 farmers who have turned Afghanistan into the world’s biggest producer of opium, which is extracted from the poppy flower.

“It is the toughest job,” says Amrullah, who feeds a 13-member family by growing and selling opium. “You have to work from morning to evening for months, it harms your health, it ruins the future of our children.”

Dressed in their oldest clothes, which would soon be rendered useless due to the intense brown stains of the resin, the workers start making incisions in the pods, to extract what is known as “poppy milk.”

Today, opium sales are clandestine, a far cry from times when it could be done openly “in the field or in local bazaars.” Now either traders approach the village quietly or the farmers carry the poppy “secretly to the insecure and Taliban-controlled areas.” But there is no shortage of buyers. Government officials, Taliban or drug traffickers — “everyone is involved (in the local poppy trade) to earn a few pennies,” Amrullah insists.

The crop is often affected by clashes between Afghan security forces, the Taliban and the Islamic State terror group. One never knows where the next round of gunfire could flare up, forcing the peasants to run for cover.

This year the poppy crop has not been good and Amrullah has only managed to earn $400 from the sale, far below the $2,000 he earned last year. The money is barely enough to pay for the fertilizers and labor, forcing him to ask the drug trafficker for an advance payment for the next crop.


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