OK, John Lennon’s lyric was not about poppies, but strawberries. However, I started humming the song because I was thinking about our country’s multi-trillion-dollar mission to build a viable central government and a new economy in Afghanistan. The White House and Pentagon tell us that one of the keys to success in this massive nation-building effort is to wean impoverished Afghan farmers from dependence on their only reliable money-making crop: poppies.
Yes, opium poppies. Afghanistan is by far the world’s No. 1 producer of this drug crop, which is bought by traffickers, who move it from remote Afghan villages to our streets, some 7,000 miles away. Not only are our troops defending a country that routinely fuels America’s narcotics problem, but the Taliban forces that are killing and maiming our soldiers are largely financed by payments they extract from these opium traffickers.
Thus, it was good news when our officials proudly and loudly announced in September that poppy cultivation in Helmand Province dropped 7 percent this year, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve spent to persuade farmers there to switch from poppies to veggies.
But don’t get too high on this progress. Nationwide, this year’s production was as high as ever. Indeed, it increased by a third in Kandahar, a key province ruled by the Afghan president’s own brother, who is said to be getting a piece of the action.
Also, 2011 looks worse, as poppy prices have nearly tripled this year, enticing more farmers to abandon lower-paying alternative crops and return to planting the old standby.
Poppy fields might truly be forever. And that’s another reason to get our troops out of there, pronto.
For more information on Jim Hightower’s work — and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown — visit www.jimhightower.com.