Conflict and Post Conflict Study

ReportReport Press Releases

A lost mandate: The Public Calls for a New Direction in Afghan Counter-Narcotics Policies

4 September 2007

Seven out of ten Americans support Poppy for Medicine pilot project in Afghanistan

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ICOS on Tuesday urged US President George W Bush to initiate Poppy for Medicine pilot projects in Afghanistan after a nationwide survey revealed that 7 in 10 in the US support a Poppy for Medicine pilot project.

At present, the current counter-narcotics policy of forced poppy crop eradication has proved to be a dramatic failure. According to the latest UN survey, opium cultivation for heroin in Helmand was up by 48% from 2006, with overall poppy cultivation levels at an all-time high for the second successive year. The UN report also noted the growing link between opium cultivation and the Taliban insurgency indicating a growing financial relationship between opium farmers and Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Forced poppy crop eradication has put US troops at risk, because the Taliban have been able to gain increasing support from angry farmers who have seen their livelihoods destroyed. Helmand farmers in particular live in extreme poverty with no other source of livelihood other than opium poppy viable for them.

The survey was conducted in the four NATO countries with troops fighting in southern Afghanistan – the UK, the US, Canada and the Netherlands – during the second half of August. The findings showed that there is no majority public support for forced crop eradication. Instead, there is a widespread belief that government leaders should support the implementation of pilot Poppy for Medicine projects in Afghanistan in the next planting season.

“A sense of urgency is required, this is grim reading for the governments involved.” said Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher of ICOS. “The survey reveals in the strongest possible terms that these countries have lost their mandate by pursuing these US-led policies. In fact, seven out of ten support Poppy for Medicine and the implementation of a pilot project.”

Poppy for Medicine projects would see village-cultivated poppy transformed into morphine tablets in the rural communities by bringing the important added value of the transformation of poppy into medicine at the local level. Farmers would be given the financial incentive necessary to sever ties with the insurgency, while the current world shortage of these pain-relieving medicines would be addressed.

There is a global shortage of pain killing medicines. Just six wealthy countries, including the United States and Canada, use more than 80% of the world’s supplies of morphine medicines, while the developing countries that account for more than 80% of the world’s population use a mere 5%.

57% of those polled in the US stated they would be willing to use Afghan Fair Trade morphine.

“President Bush has to regain grassroots support for his Afghanistan counter-narcotics strategy by adopting the Poppy for Medicine scheme,” said MacDonald. “The American people have recognised that the current counter-narcotics policies in Afghanistan are failing and having a detrimental impact upon the US mission in the country.

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