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RTL Today – World’s largest producer: Taliban leader orders ban on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan

The Taliban supreme leader on Sunday ordered a ban on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, warning that the radical Islamist government would crack down on farmers who planted the crop.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of poppies, the source of the sap that is refined into heroin, and in recent years production and exports have only exploded.

“All Afghans are informed that henceforth poppy cultivation is strictly prohibited throughout the country,” said a decree by Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The order was read out by government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid to a gathering of journalists, foreign diplomats and Taliban officials.

“If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be immediately destroyed and the offender will be dealt with according to Sharia,” he added.

This is not the first time the fundamentalist group has vowed to ban the trade. Production was banned in 2000, just before the group was overthrown by US forces following the September 11 attacks.

During their 20-year insurgency against foreign forces, the Taliban heavily taxed farmers growing the crop in areas under their control, experts said.

He became a key resource for the group to generate funds.

Poppy farmer Abdul Rahman told AFP Sunday’s ban had dealt a blow to his livelihood.

“We took out loans to grow this… If these crops are destroyed, our income will disappear,” said Rahman, who hails from the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s de facto center of power.

“We too don’t like to cultivate this crop and we’ve had enough of it. We know that our future generations will be dependent on it, but we are forced to cultivate.”

– Difficult to enforce the ban –

US and NATO forces attempted to curb poppy cultivation during their two decades in Afghanistan by paying farmers to grow alternative crops such as wheat or saffron.

But their attempts were thwarted by the Taliban, which controlled major poppy-growing regions and made hundreds of millions of dollars from the trade, experts said.

Author David Mansfield, who has written a book on the opium trade in Afghanistan, said the Taliban would struggle to enforce the latest ban because farmers had invested considerable resources in a ready-to-use crop. harvested.

“It’s not just the smell of (farmers) opium, it’s the money and what it buys after a cold winter of rising food prices and economic crisis,” tweeted Mansfield.

The economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has deepened since foreign donors cut off aid to the country following the Taliban takeover of the country in August last year.

Mansfield said the ban was an attempt by the Taliban to divert political debate in the country from issues such as “girls’ education and human rights”.

Last month the Taliban closed all secondary schools for girls, just hours after reopening them for the first time since taking power, sparking international outrage.

Afghan media, meanwhile, said poppy production had increased in two southern provinces, Kandahar and Helmand, since the Taliban returned to power, but did not provide data.

Afghanistan holds a virtual monopoly on opium and heroin, accounting for 80-90% of global production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The area of ​​land used to plant poppies hit a record high in 2017 and has averaged about 250,000 hectares in recent years, about four times the level of the mid-1990s, according to UN figures.

According to a 2020 UN survey, poppy was grown in 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.