Poppy seeds and fertilizer also cost money, but start-up
farmers are willing to approach traffickers, asking to borrow money with a
promise to repay with kilos of opium at harvest time. They know opium is much
more promising than wheat. As eradication efforts ramp up, however, farmers who
don't have enough to bribe officials end up watching their lucrative crop
ripped up and flattened. Gone with it is their hope for a better future -- and, sometimes, their
"This is a business deal, essentially," Nawa said. "This has
become a more common practice because of the opium trade, because this society
has disintegrated and family is being interrupted."
Poppy farmers who give their daughters in marriage to
lenders receive quittance -- and sometimes a cash dowry that can be used to start
a new life. Even so, such opportunity offers little consolation to those who
have chosen that path; loan brides are considered a shame to the culture. "The
fathers who sell their daughters to settle their opium debts are ashamed of
what they're doing," Nawa said. "It is not something that is accepted or
There are no statistics on how many girls have been traded
as a result of the opium trade. Data collection isn't the norm in
Afghanistan--not even for birth records. And when these marriages are performed
without being registered with the state or religious authorities, statistics
are likely to be clouded by severe inconsistencies; the real number of girls
entering marriage before 18 could be much higher.
Despite the shame and heartache the opium trade has brought
Afghan families, poppy cultivation is proven increasingly resilient. For a
country that's ranked almost at the bottom of the Human Development Index,
growing opium poppy can be a real opportunity. Stories of those
who have improved their lives through the illicit crop continue to be a source
of inspiration. There are farmers who grow rich and reinvest the opium money
to rebuild their communities. There are women who enjoy the ability to work;
cultivating and processing opium are done within a compound, thus available to
women under the Taliban regime. This gives women a chance to become an integral
part of the society.
Still, many farmers want to stop growing poppy, but they
won't until they can establish other sources of income.
And it's possible. Nawa has seen it: a woman who was able to
quit opium cultivation once she had provided alternative sources of income for
Poppy had given her the money to buy her son a car that he
turned into a taxi. She also bought her daughter a carpet frame that turned
into another source of revenue. "I think women who do grow poppy are very
willing to stop growing poppy if they're able to invest in other businesses,"
But such cases are rare. The source of strength in
Afghanistan--the Afghan family--has been weakened by the drug trade, war and
violence, according to Nawa. Families are broken. People are drowned in a
never-ending cycle of poverty. Corruption has sucked away most aid money that
could have pulled Afghanistan out of the heroin assembly line, she said.