Police have wiped out 2,029 hectares of opium poppy crop during an eradication campaign in the four tehsils of Mohmand district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
On the instructions of Mardan Regional Police Officer (RPO) Sher Akbar Khan and Mohmand District Police Officer (DPO) Fazal Ahmad Jan, the police started a poppy eradication campaign on February 24, 2020.
The campaign was launched in the four tehsils of Mohmand district. At least 120 police personnel have participated in the drive. According to police data, in tehsil Prang Ghar, 3,414 kanals of poppy crop was wiped out. In Tehsil Ambar 583 kanals, in Pandiali 111 and in Tehsil Ekka Ghund two kanals were cleared.
Before the merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, opium poppy cultivation was common in the rugged tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Farmers considered poppy a profitable cash crop in Mohmand. After the merger, the laws of settled areas have been extended to the tribal districts. The region is no longer lawless, but the farmers are still growing poppies in areas where the district administration has limited access.
Opium poppy is well suited for the harsh local weather. It grows with little difficulty in conditions unsuitable for most other crops, cultivated on either irrigated or un-irrigated land and at altitudes of up to 3,000 meters. Upper Prang Ghar provides perfect conditions for poppies to grow.
After the abolition of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and the merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, federal and provincials laws have been also extended to tribal districts. Opium poppy cultivation has been banned in Pakistan. Despite laws against it, farmers in some areas of tribal districts still cultivate poppy illicitly.
Prohibition and punishment
According to Section 4 of the Control of Narcotic Substances Act 1997 (CNSA), “No one shall cultivate any cannabis plant or opium poppy or gather any portion of cannabis of plant, coca bush or opium poppy. Provided that the Federal government or a provincial government authorized by the federal government may, subject to such condition as it may prescribe, permit under the license cultivation or gathering of any such narcotic plant or any portion thereof exclusively for medical, scientific or industrial purposes.”
Section 5 of CNSA, says “Whoever contravenes the provisions of Section 4 shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to seven years, or with fines, or with both.”
The tehsil Upper Prang Ghar, the green mountainous range is considered to be the heartland for poppy cultivation. However, a gradual decline has been reported in this region’s cultivation. Farmers in Upper Prang Ghar Tehsil cultivate opium poppy in December. In March, the crop gets ready and in April and May, it produces yield.
Deputy Superintendent Police (DSP) Khalid Khan Mohmand said in 2018 during an eradication campaign that the police had wiped out 980 kanals of opium poppy crop in the area. Due to the merger and the administrative reshuffle in 2019, police had passed on the poppy eradication campaign. After a comparison with 2018, in Prang Ghar the poppy cultivation has increased three times.
Farmers in the tribal district sow poppy in December. In April, the crop ready for the yield. “In December 2019, we had launched an awareness campaign where we met tribal elders and tried to convince them to discourage poppy cultivation,” he maintained.
Police have arrested 14 farmers accused of poppy cultivation. “We registered cases against them but court issued bails in all cases and their trials are continuing in district courts,” he maintained.
Bara Khan is a farmer in Prang Ghar. He lives in mud house. Like last year, he has once again cultivated opium poppy. Last year, he had collected a good yield but now he is facing many challenges. The police cleared his opium poppy field in March, the only source of income for his family. “Instead of wheat and other crops, we prefer opium poppy. It provides a good income and we spend the whole year easily,” he said.
Due to the mountainous terrain and absence of an irrigation system, farmers cultivate crops which require less water. Opium poppy is the best option in Upper Prang Ghar terrain.
“Four kanal land yields about 150 kilograms wheat, but if we cultivate opium poppy, we easily get 700kg of opium from the same land.” Bara Khan’s family lives below the poverty line and they don’t have basic necessities. “If the government builds tube wells, roads, hospitals and schools in our area, we will not grow opium poppy,” he said.
Shah Nawaz Tarkzai, a journalist in Mohmand district, says that Prang Ghar is a mountainous and tough terrain where farmers are unable to cultivate wheat, maize and other crops. “Most people here are poor; they don’t have necessities of life. The only source of income for the local community is opium poppy,” he says.
“Police are eradicating crops near roads, but there are far-flung areas in upper Prang Ghar bordering Bajaur district. There are small valleys in upper Prang Ghar with limited access, no transportation, and roads where the farmers grow opium poppy. Eradicating them would be a big challenge for the district police,” he says.
However, Khalid Khan has said they have informers everywhere and after receiving authentic information the police would act according to the law. “We will never hesitate wherever we find reports of opium poppy cultivation,” he adds.
Shah Nawaz said he has heard from elders that 40 years ago, poppy was being cultivated in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Now it has stopped as times have changed. Farmers usually avoid its cultivation,” he adds.
To discourage poppy cultivation, the provincial government has introduced an agricultural scheme for farmers. The government has established orange gardens for farmers at lower Prang Ghar Tehsil.
Minister for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives Mohibullah Khan told newsmen in Peshawar that the government will spend billions of rupees in the agriculture sector. To a question regarding opium cultivation in the tribal districts, he didn’t have the latest information. “Opium poppy cultivation in tribal districts is part of their history. After merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government will spend Rs100 billion under a ten-year plan. The provincial government has introduced the Accelerated Implementation Plan (AIP) projects in the newly merged tribal district to eliminate poverty,” the minister added.
According to an official hand out from the Chief Minister House, 168 projects have been initiated in tribal districts under AIP during the on-going fiscal year.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2019 says Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium-producing country, accounting for 82 per cent of global illicit opium production. In 2018, Afghanistan cultivated 263,000 hectares of opium poppy.
Opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar, home to the world’s second largest area under opium poppy cultivation, continued to decline in 2018, with the country accounting for 11 per cent of the global area under illicit opium poppy cultivation worldwide that year. Some 37,300 hectares of opium poppy are estimated, UNODC report says. The UNODC annual report further says opium poppy is illicitly produced in nearly 50 countries worldwide.
In 2017, Pakistani farmers cultivated 90 hectares of opium poppy which produced two ton of opium. In 2018 and 2019 no data was found. According to UNODC report, in 2017, Pakistan eradicated 169 hectares opium poppy, however, in 2018, 2019 no data was found in the report.
The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be contacted on Twitter @daudpasaney