Thursday, February 4, 2010

Turning drug crops into chocolate and coffee

The old way was to go in and destroy a drug crop, and leave the farmers either to starve or replant.  But Peru and Thailand have found a better way.

Time reports that Peru has been encouraging its coca growers to plant cocoa.  To some extent, the policy has paid off.  Today Peruvian cocoa has a decent reputation among chocolate makers. The article caused me wonder if a replacement crop had been found for the opium grown in Afghanistan. Coffee seems like an obvious "substitute crop" in a mountainous region.

After some googling I came across an interesting report by Alastair Leithead of the BBC.   It turns out that Thailand has pioneered the substitution of coffee for poppies.   In the Golden Triangle region, Thailand's royal-sponsored Mah Fah Luang Foundation has successfully converted some poppy fields to coffee plantations. (I had heard about the foundation and its coffee growing initiative on a visit to the region , but opium had been so thoroughly eliminated in northern Thailand by the time of my first visit that the historical rationale for the initiative had never ocurred to me).  MR Disnadda Diskul, the foundation director, has been serving as a consultant to Afghanistan.   A descendant of the Thai royal family who has spent twenty years working on the problem, MR Disnadda Diskul was not impressed by the American effort:
"At the moment they are pouring the money into Afghanistan but they are giving fish to the poor, but not giving them a fishing rod and teaching them how to fish, or to look after the ocean," he says.

"That's the difference between the Thai way and what they are doing in Afghanistan. The donor countries are using all their money for infrastructure - not into the mouths and stomachs of the people."
With ever more opium being produced across the Thai border in Burma's Shan State, someday Thailand's experience with this matter may be sought closer to home.

1 comment:

  1. Coffee indeed would seem like a suitable culture for some parts of Afghanistan.

    There also seems to be quite a lot of mineral wealth hidden until now in the Afghan soil. Karzai was quoted as saying Afghan mineral resources culd well be around $1 trillion:

    Even if the USGS estimates are grossly exaggerated, there still must be a lot. It's quite ironical, though, that it's the Chinese and Indian companies that seem to (for now) stand to benefit most from the future mineral exploitation. While some fight, others quietly seek business concessions :)

    It's also ironical that coffee is believed to originate from either south of the Arabian peninsula (current Yemen), or West Africa coast (Ethiopia and/Somalia). With the Western world's obsession about it, it would seem like a natural solution to the war conflicts in those areas. If only world was that simple.



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