A two-day conference on Promoting Afghanistan’s Alternative Development Initiatives amongst Regional and International Partners started Thursday in Ashgabat.
It is being held in the UNODC framework of regional programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries.
It was initially planned to hold this event in May this year but for various reasons was postponed to November.
The largest delegations are of course from Afghanistan and the UNODC. There is also high level presence from Pakistan and Iran.
Also present at the conference are representatives from Columbia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Japan, Finland, Russia, the UK, USA and a number of UN agencies.
The event organizers will issue a press release which will give the outcome of the conference.
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Anyone who came up with the term ‘Alternative Development Initiatives’ deserves the top prize in florid vagueness.
For those who are used to a direct connection between the title and the content, here is what ‘Alternative Development Initiatives’ is supposed to mean, as described by Yury Fedotov, the director general / executive director of UNODC: Alternative development continues to be recognized by Member States as a fundamental pillar of a comprehensive drug control strategy and plays an important role as a development oriented drug control approach. […] Let us not forget that behind the policies, we have hundreds of thousands of farmers affected by poverty, food insecurity, lack of land, instability who as a result engage in illicit drug cultivation. It is our common responsibility to continue addressing the livelihood of these people, despite the challenges that the international community is faced with today, including the financial constraints.
In plain language, it means that the farmers must be encouraged to start growing something else instead of poppy in their microscopic fields – the average land holding in poppy areas in Afghanistan is about half a hectare.
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It is important to comment as to why it could be a journey to nowhere except that what will happen on the sidelines of the conference could be more significant than what will be rolled out laboriously during the conference.
What is immediately obvious is that the UNODC is blissfully in defiance of the law of demand and supply. Except for the Iranian delegate hardly anyone cared to underline forcefully that the main problem is the rising demand of the opium-based substances in the western societies, most notably the United States.
By focusing on replacing poppies with saffron, UNODC, and by extensions the donors who sustain UNODC, are beating at the shadow of the serpent, not the serpent itself.
The Opioid epidemic in the USA is now a national crisis. A New York Times article published on 10 August 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/03/upshot/opioid-drug-overdose-epidemic.html) gives some details.
Here is what the article tells us:
Drug overdose is the leading cause of Americans under 50. The numbers are rising fast because of the Opioids. In 2015, roughly 2% of deaths were drug-related.
Among the Opoids – the opium based substances – the top killers are heroin and crack heroin.
It is well established that a vast number of addictions come from the legal route i.e. being prescribed opium-containing painkillers and thus getting hooked to larger and stronger doses because there is still no system in place to wean the patients from the prescription pills.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose..
For context, this is equivalent to 9/11 death toll every month.
These figures are for 2015 when the epidemic was still not considered a national emergency.
About half a million people died in a period of 15 years preceding 2015 and another half million could possibly die within the next few years.
Other studies indicate that the white females in the age group of mid- and late-teens to early twenties are the fastest growing group of opioid addicts in the USA. This is the age group that is supposed to be the backbone of the society; any and every society.
Elsewhere, we also know that as the opium based substances, particularly heroin, travel from their source to the market, the volume keeps growing because of ‘cuts’ with anything from talcum powder to powdered paracetamol (or whatever else that suits the dealer), until it reaches a dilution level of 1 to 100. It means that one gram of the original substance will fetch hundred times the base price when it reaches the end user.
And yet, the UNODC and its donors believe that the problems can be requested to go away by persuading the farmers to start growing Saffron.
At the conference Thursday, some brochure and CDs on the benefits of growing Saffron, together with samples of red Saffron grown in Afghanistan were available to the participants. The data in the brochures dates back to 2008, which possibly means that they were printed in 2009 or 2010.
Either the print run of the brochure was unbelievably large so that it has lasted seven years despite being distributed to the prospective farmers (though it is in English, a language many farmers are not expected to understand) or the steam is already running out from this idea and hence there is surplus of the brochure seven years from the time of its original publication.
An article by World’s Top Exports titled Afghanistan’s Top 10 Exports, published on 28 September 2017, lumps Saffron in the category of ‘spices, coffee’ and gives the total value of USD 28.3 million, which comes to 6.7% of total exports of Afghanistan.
Considering that Afghanistan exports a number of other spices such as cumin, kirabia and caraway, the share of Saffron cannot be immediately noticeable.
Instead of chasing the Saffron dream it would be better to ask the farmers to grow more poppies rather than less or no poppies.
The catch here is that the government or the donors should create a system to estimate the crop at the time of its sprouting and make advance purchase arrangements with the farmers, offering them a price equivalent to Saffron.
In turn, the pharmaceutical companies should be hit in their posterior with a sharp object to encourage them to shed their shoddy practices and start paying a fair price for the raw poppy. After all, it is the pharmaceutical giants who are making obscene profits from the opium-based medicines including the painkillers.
Together with this, the American Medical Association should redefine the ethics and the parameters for prescribing the opioids to the unsuspecting patients.
——- Curtail the greed of pharmaceutical giants and revisit the ethics of prescribing opioids.
Unless these two things are done, any number of conferences would be a journey to nowhere. /// nCa, 17 November 2017