Friday, July 18, 2008

UK produces more opium than 24 of Afghanistan's 35 provinces

According to Dr. Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary, in 2007 the UK was the 11th largest producer of opium poppy.

Fox, writing a blog on the CentreRight website says,

'... figures recently released by the Government show that when the United Kingdom is compared with the 34 provinces in Afghanistan the UK ranks an astonishing 11th place in the amount of opium poppy production in 2007.
Figures released by the U.S. State Department show that in 2007 the UK grew more opium poppy than Pakistan.'

Astonishing? Not really, in fact its a pretty daft comparison. The UK production is all legal and for the medical market whilst the Afghan is all illegal and all for non-medical use. Also Helmland alone produces more than half of the country's opium with over 100K hectares, then there's a pretty dramatic fall off with number 8 being only 3K hectares, and UK 2.7K hectares.

I have recently stumbled into one of these opium poppy fields across 'acres of rolling Hampshire fields' as referred to by the Daily Mail and Liam Fox.

I photographed this opium poppy field in Hampshire at the weekend

The Transform blog has previously discussed the hysteria that is occasionally whipped up by media reporting (the Mail's ridiculous coverage in particular) of these 100% legally grown Class A poppies here.

Fox finishes his blog with a reference to the Senlis Council's Poppy for Medicine proposal,

'Not only are we failing to eradicate it [opium poppy], we are growing it at home when we could be buying it from farmers in Afghanistan before it ends up on the black market. The Government tells us that they have to grow poppy in the UK as part of a strategic reserve. I find this ironic considering that the UK is supposed to have the strategic and tactical control of one of the biggest poppy producing places in the world: Helmand Province!'

What he fails to point out, as Steve has argued previously is that UK, NATO and Afghan forces in Helmand province (and elsewhere in Afghanistan) don't have the infrastructure, or security situation, to prevent leakage into the illegal market which is fueling the conflict and lack of security. Even if they could, demand for the illicit product would remain and economic forces would inevitably lead to cultivation elsewhere, either in Afghanistan (most likely by the same people), or elsewhere (the 'balloon' effect identified recently by the director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. )

Hampshire police (and other UK police forces in counties where poppies are grown) on the other hand have a better grip on 'security' than their counterparts in Afghanistan, as well as substantially less to worry about; there seems to be no problems with legally grown opium poppies being diverted into the illegal market in the UK. However, having found no fences to prevent me accessing the field (and what use would they be anyway), I can only conclude that those involved in the production of medical opiates rely on the fact that the general public has no idea what is growing across our purple and pleasant lands. Or, more likely, couldn't care less.

Either way it demonstrates that there is absolutely no need for Afghanistan to be growing any of the opiates consumed in the UK. This problem is one of our own making and an alternative path that doesn't involve any terrorists, wars or dead British soldiers is there for all to see. Here's the one line version for those who have not worked it out yet:

legal production for non-medical use.

The choice is ours, and I have the photos to prove it.


Anonymous said...

Not surprised by Mr Fox's revelations.

I've thought for some time that he'd have done better sticking to medicine.

Anonymous said...

Misha Glenny (author of McMafia) has a column in today's Guardian.
In it he mentions the Afghanistan problem and how the existing drug policy makes thing worse for all:
A dangerous fiction

The war on drugs is a non sequitur - and is equally harmful to both producers and consumers

Link to Guardian article
(and is asking for your comments)

Followed by a radio program later to night.

“He meets members of a crime syndicate in British Columbia who make colossal profits by smuggling hundreds of kilos of marijuana into the United States every year.”

Link to program page