In 2007, Afghanistan – which supplies approximately 80% of the world’s illicit opium – had an estimated world market value of $4 billion for their crops. Then, in 2015, there were reports of mysterious new high-yield opium poppy seeds resulting in bumper crops of opium. What would the value of these crops be and where were these super-seeds coming from?
In 2016, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that there was a 43% surge in Afghan opium production in that coincided with a genetically modified organism (GMO) seed that was developed in China and farmed ‘legally’ for the pharmaceutical industry. The GMO seeds allow poppies to be grown year round instead of the normal 1-2 crops per year while using less water. The bulbs of the poppies grow bigger and the bulbs can be scored to extract resin twice, almost doubling yield. It is clear that China lost control of their new seed to the Afghan illicit opium industry, which has had beneficial consequences not only for the worldwide heroin market, but for the Taliban.
The Afghan opium trade remains a key source of funding for the Taliban, up to 40%, (which is also benefiting from an influx of money from Saudi Arabia). The Taliban continue to use opiate revenue to fuel its insurgency against the Afghan government and NATO forces. Despite their previous ban under Taliban rule, poppies are now a cash crop for the political movement and criminal organizations as the trade continues to undermine security in the region. Not only is the drug trade a problem in Afghanistan, where farmers can’t begin to compete if they want to grow a crop like wheat, but so is drug addiction. An estimated 2 million Afghans are addicted to opium, heroin and other drugs, in a country of only 30 million people.
Once again, politics are being funded by dirty money while millions of people’s lives around the globe are ruined and lost from the lust for power and wealth which are the cause of war, poverty and addiction. It seems hopeless.
And truly, there is very little, if anything, you or I can do to change the dynamics involved in international politics and corruption. But what we can do is work to reduce their market by any and all means possible to us. We know there are several common dynamics that give drug use an open door into a life: poverty (leading to crime in gangs or cartels) or wealth (leading to boredom, purposelessness and the next high), lack of community or the wrong community, lack of knowledge or deceptive information (Pharmaceutical companies and immoral health practitioners), inescapable family genetics (for addiction or mental health issues) or inescapable family dynamics (abuse and neglect).
Let’s think about what area we have experience in and access to and then look for people and groups we can connect with and ways we can help. I would urge you to start at home, with your family and friends. Go ahead and start the conversations about addiction, alcohol, drugs, mental health. Ask your loved ones about their history or experiences – stretch yourself and others beyond your comfort zone, take the risk with the goal of opening eyes and minds and hearts.