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Men, women, and children from miles around gathered outside Marine Corps Forward Operating Base, Camp Hansen, Marjah, Sept. 5, to attend an anti-drug summit hosted by 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, that ultimately unified a plan for all farmers to give up the growth of illicit plants like opium in the area.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Johnston

Afghan farmers stand together against drug production in northern Marjah

5 Sep 2010 | Lance Cpl. Andrew Johnston

MARJAH, Afghanistan – Afghans declared an end to drug production in northern Marjah during an anti-drug summit at Forward Operating Base Sheri Wali, Marjah, Afghanistan, Sept. 5.

Afghanistan officials said the event will go down in Afghan history as one of the largest groups of people to gather to tackle issues brought on by the illicit drug trade.

Hours before the event, Afghan men, women and children throughout northern Marjah gathered outside the base’s front gate for the historic turning point that ultimately unified a plan for all farmers to give up the growth of illicit plants like opium in the area.

According to the U.S. Department of State, an estimated 85 percent of Afghans are dependent on agriculture and related agribusinesses for their livelihoods.

Unfortunately, for farmers in Afghanistan, their agricultural growth selection is heavily influenced by the Taliban, where they practically force them to grow illicit crops.

In the same study by the USDOS, Afghanistan produced a record opium poppy crop in 2007, supplying 93 percent of the world's opium, with numbers slowly declining each year. They also concluded that the Taliban controls 96 percent of the territory where poppy is grown, making it a difficult choice for farmers who want to embrace new government policies and keep their families safe at the same time.

The overall consensus of the 1,000 Afghans in attendance was “enough is enough.”

One by one highly respected village elders and Afghan officials took turns denouncing the growth of illegal plants and anything to do with them.

Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Haji Muhammad Neazie, commanding officer for the ANA in 2/9’s area of operation, wanted the people of Marjah to know that the “government is on their side,” stressing that almost all of their problems revolve around the growth of illicit plants. Neazi also explained that because almost all farmland is used to grow poppy and no one sees those profits; the economic infrastructure is eating itself from the inside out.

“We need to grow legal crops and grow our own wheat and produce so we can invest here,” said Neazie, pointing out that the majority of their consumables are imported. “This is the only way for us to get rid of the fact that we have to rely on other countries. This is the only way to make our country safe and secure.”

Neazie also talked about how taking advantage of every opportunity they have available to them now will help them sustain a suitable standard of living and set them up for success in the future.

Haji Sadoo Khan, a respected village elder, agreed with the Neazie and warned that those who stray from the newly implemented laws will find themselves behind bars.

“We have a lot of friends, brothers and cousins spending time in prison and I am sure they are tired of it,” said Khan. “Unfortunately for them, they were involved in illegal drugs. This too, will soon be your fate if you continue to grow these crops.”

Lt. Col. James Fullwood, commanding officer of 2/9, took time to address the crowd and explained to them that his Marines are here to help, not harm, but at the same time stand up to those who want to prevent peace and prosperity.

A ritualistic burning of seized drugs and paraphernalia concluded the event, symbolizing a new chapter for the people of Marjah.

As torches were lit the crowd erupted, chanting “no more illegal drugs, no more illegal plants!”

“All of the problems we have in this province, all of the bad situations and security problems, all of the bad people and enemies are a result of illegal drugs,” said Afghan Uniformed Police Lt. Dawood, commanding officer for AUP in northern Marjah. “Now is the time to stand together and stop being weak. Band together and stop growing the drugs and stop those who you see growing it!”