HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Afghanistan’s poppy industry is a double-edged sword. The United Nations blames it for supplying 90% of the world’s opium black market, and the Taliban takes a large chunk of the profits. Because some Afghans’ livelihood depends on the trade, it’s a problem that forces hard-charging Marines to tread lightly.
Marines and sailors with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment may have the solution. Sept. 20, they distributed carrot, cauliflower, potato, wheat, corn, radish, onion and cotton seeds as well as fertilizer to Afghan farmers here. Hopefully, the seeds will provide an alternate source of income for some and a brighter future for all of the Afghan people.
Before the event kicked off, local farmers lined the Marine Corps base gates, eagerly waiting their turn.
“It’s not a charity,” said Lance Cpl. Bryan Kim, a civil affairs specialist with 2/9. “They have to register with their local government before they are approved.”
Once they’re approved, the government ads them to a list and sends it to the seed distribution points, Kim explained. The distribution personnel check IDs against the list, only providing seeds to those who have registered.
Once the process began, local Afghans took charge of the event by fingerprinting, photographing and escorting each farmer to ensure no one was receiving more than his allotted entitlements.
“It’s great seeing the locals run the program with minimal help,” said Hanif Hassad, a farmer from Helmand province. “These are the types of things we need to help us stop growing poppy. We thank the Marines for keeping us safe while we get our seeds.”
According to the United States Agency for International Development, distribution projects like this one have had an astounding impact on stopping poppy production.
The projects open up a new market, using the agricultural industry to serve as a foundation for legitimate economic growth.
Still, some poppy farmers have trouble leaving the trade.
“It’s a tough decision for someone that is used to growing poppy and possibly making more money from it,” said Capt. Stanton C. Lee, the 2/9 civil affairs team leader. “But the program is here. We’re providing people with a direct alternative to opium.”
And after nine hours of distribution, people kept coming. The crowd at the distribution point grew as the seed pile shrunk. Somewhere in Helmand province, a spade broke fresh earth, and an old poppy farmer stooped to sow a new seed for himself and his country.