Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

Pushing out Afghan Poppies

Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

Pushing out Afghan Poppies

Article excerpt

AFGHAN and international forces are trying to reduce Afghanistan's huge poppy crop--which is grown to produce opium--and convince farmers to plant food crops to feed the population instead.

Poppy eradication is a an ever-increasing challenge, however. According to the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghan opium production in 2006 rose 57 percent over that of the previous year.

The profits from Afghanistan's opium production and subsequent drug trafficking have financed the Taliban and other enemies of the government, Defense Department officials said.

To help combat the problem, 1st Lt. Gris Babcock of the Idaho National Guard's 207th Regional Security Assistance Command in Afghanistan, and an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in his civilian job, started an agricultural-research center to determine which crops would be viable substitutes for the poppies.

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The center is comprehensive, with laboratories, classrooms and even fishponds with hatcheries, he said. It includes beehives, vineyards and orchards. When completed, it will even have a weather station.

Officials have begun work on 10 acres of orchards that will include apricot, plum, almond, pomegranate, mulberry and wild pistachio trees. The saplings from the orchards will help surrounding villages start their own nurseries. Though the villages will be cultivating the " nurseries, they will be under the auspices of the center, 1st Lt. Babcock said.

Another 10 acres will be used to grow six varieties of grapes. Grapes had been all but wiped out by the Taliban, because they could be used to produce wine.

"Grapes are lucrative and require very little summer watering, which makes them an ideal crop. With the introduction of trellising, yields will increase at least 60 percent in this climate," 1st Lt. …

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