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New research helps in war against international drugs trade

An increased demand for meat in Afghanistan could play an important role in stemming the international flow of heroin, according to a new study led by the Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen.

The price of meat in urban markets is now high enough that livestock production could provide an alternative source of income if Afghani farmers are forced to give up growing opium poppies, says the report, which looked at meat, wool, skin and hide production.

Project leader Iain Wright, Chief Executive of Macaulay Research Consultancy Services Ltd. acknowledges, however, that there is still a long way to go to rebuild the livestock sector in the country.

"Margins from livestock cannot, at the moment, compete with the returns being made from growing poppies. However, if policies that aim to curb poppy cultivation are to have any chance of success they must provide alternative sources of income to rural families."

The report suggests introducing effective re-stocking schemes as well as providing credit packages for farmers to help re-invigorate the livestock sector. This would give many poor rural families an alternative to poppy growing.

The project, which was carried out jointly with Mercy Corps and the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Food also recommended feeding animals to higher live weights and selling them at times of the year when prices were high as ways of increasing returns to livestock producers.

Iain Wright said: "This study has shown that with a high demand for meat, livestock can play an important part in Afghanistan’s agriculture and economy."

The increased demand for animal products, particularly in urban areas, has come about due to the population growth and economic recovery enjoyed since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2002.

However, severe drought has meant that the numbers of livestock – and livestock farmers - have decreased alarmingly in the last seven years, which has also seen sales of imported meat, mainly frozen chicken legs from Western countries, rise to one third of the market share.

Conversely, opium poppy production - which is the basis for heroin production - has risen dramatically. In 2004, the crop was valued at US$2.8 billion and an estimated one in 10 of the population was involved in poppy growing. Many of those involved are destitute and landless families with huge debts.

Afghanistan is now the number one producer of heroin in the world and the Afghan Government, with assistance from the international community, is giving high priority to the implementation of a strategy that aims to control and eventually eradicate the growing of poppies.

"A major component of this strategy is to find alternative livelihoods for rural families who are presently growing poppies," said Dr Wright.

According to the report, short term credit and on-farm trials with different breeds and diets are now needed. The three month study, funded by the UK Department of International Development as part of the Research on Alternative Livelihoods Fund, looked at livestock production and constraints in seven villages close to Kunduz and Kandahar.

The authors also conducted interviews with farmers, livestock traders and butchers there and in Kabul, to gather further information. The research focused on sheep, goats, cattle, and to a lesser extent, buffalo.

Dave Stevens | alfa
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