Bees against honey

Despite the declining financial supports for ethnographic research, in one country of the world there is a large-scale anthropological photo documentation project running with the support of several governments of the world and with the participation of the best photo reporters. Each week thousands of new images are published over the web, which could be a golden mine for an ingenious visual anthropologist. Below we see a photo report by Ilya Varlamov on an operation of the Afghan police to destroy poppy fields. His commentaries are translated literally.

Today I want to show you how Afghan police destroys poppy fields. Quite by accident I have hit upon one of these operations. Since my visit was not coordinated with the press office of the Northern Alliance and the NATO, I could see how the operation to destroy poppy fields actually runs. You can be assured that this year in Afghanistan still they gather a record harvest.

Early in the morning we leave the hotel and go to the mountains. The driver promised to show me the poppy fields

It is not difficult to find them. Almost all slopes in the vicinity of Faizabad are covered with the light green patches of poppy fields

There are a few tens of square meters large tiny ones along the road as well as vast ones, stretching beyond the horizon

Suddenly we encounter the police. They go to the next raid. Learning that I am a journalist from Russia, they allow me to go with them and see how they struggle with the crops

After thirty minutes we arrive to the place of gathering. The police are well armed. You have to know that for many farmers growing poppy is the only source of income. They sometimes surround the fields with landmines, or fire at the police

Support group

The destruction of the fields happens in two phases. First they cut down the stalks with sticks,
and then they plow the field with tractors. As one of the police explains it, they need to
cut down the stalks, because otherwise the farmers would re-plant the fields

Even the farmers of the nearby villages are involved in the work

Nevertheless, poppy flowers are beautiful

Women and children run out to the field. They are crying and throwing sticks. A month later they might have harvested and sold it. For many of them this money was the only way to survive another year in this hell

They have few options. They can start to grow other crops, can go to the Taliban, or to starve

Having lost everything, many people choose the second option and join the Taliban. After
these raids the talibs often go to these villages to recruit new members. People in
despair are ready for everything. Here are recruited the best suicide bombers
who tomorrow will go to avenge upon the police and the military

At the sight of the camera, policemen work at a double pace

But in fact, they destroy half of the crop at best

Do not cry, little girl. The uncle with the camera will soon leave you and your fields alone. You
will grow up and will not know any other work, except how to grow poppies.
After all, heroin is the only thing that makes Afghanistan

A cop shows how to make heroin from poppies, but I do not really understand the technology

After 15 minuters the soldiers are getting used to me, we become “friends”. To make the work fun, guys wet the cigarette with poppy seed milk. The action “Bees against honey” begins

The current U.S. program to combat Afghan drug trafficking, which focuses on the destruction of poppy fields is a waste of money. Americans also know this

During the program they can destroy some acres of poppy fields, but ultimately it reinforces
the Taliban, because while it slightly reduces the drug income of the talibs, nevertheless
it fills their ranks with new members from the Afghan farmers who lost their income

The new U.S. program involves replacing poppy with other crops and creating a situation where Afghan farmers would grow other, more profitable plants

The soldiers are accompanied by a boy with GPS, notebook and camera. He fixes the fields before and after work. He puts down all the coordinates. One must account for the American money

The owners of the fields are gathering


Greetings from Lukashenko

This is how the fields look after work

Helicopters support the action from the air

At the end all the locals are gathered together, and a policeman reads them a lecture on
the dangers of drug production. The villagers are told about how
they can earn money with other crops

The peasants are sitting and looking at the cop who ten minutes ago smoked a “funny joint”.
He strangely shakes his head and his speech is slurred. Surely all of them
can see on him that drug is a bad thing

NATO considers that the problem of drug production in Afghanistan must be addressed very
carefully, so as not to lose the loyalty of local residents, for many of whom drug
cultivation is the only source of income. “We cannot put ourselves in a
situation where we deprive the people living in the second poorest
country in the world from the only source of income
without leaving them any alternative.”

Lo, an alternative has been left, as it is seen in this photo. More than half of the crop has not
been touched. U.S. funds will have a wonderful report from the boy with the notebook
which will attest that the brave Afghan soldiers have put an end to this plague. The
U.S. Government will allocate several millions of dollars to the war against the
poppy. And the peasants are expecting a record crop within a month

That’s it

Afghanistan is the leading country in drug production. By some estimates, up to 93% of the world’s heroin consumption is produced here.

3 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

sensational photo reportage.
The truth is that Western world need Afghanistan to be as it is.

walter dijo...

I know nothing of Afghanistan outside what the press feed me, but the recent Afghanistan exhibition in London opened my eyes to another version, one with more hope. So the cynicism against the Americans and NATO is the more disappointing. Would the farmers grow opium if left alone? Are they growing for powerful cartels or is it small-scale income?
Perhaps the police action is better descibed as "against honey-bees" rather than "bees against honey"
The tractor is curious (yes, Belarus - Lukashenko, finally I got it). It's unlikely to arrive on a low-loader with the police task-force so is it commandeered for the day, or do the farmers grub-up their own crop? It's unlikely that the police would hang around to check that every last stalk is uprooted.

Pictures leave as much unsaid as they reveal.

A last pedantic point: I believe heroin (diacetylmorphine) does not occur in the opium poppy latex, but requires a synthetic step. At best the cigarette might be spiked with a trace of morphine.

Thanks for (re-)posting and translating this. As always food for thought.

mkristof dijo...

Just one remark: that trace of morphine is still quite strong. For instance, there is a subgroup of drug users who make tea with poppy seed milk and they get properly stoned frome it. Of course heroin is many times stronger but that's not the point - the point is that the policeman use narcotics while fighting against drugs. That "puts in brackets" whatever they say to the locals, and I guess the farmers think in the same way. (I don't know whether this pseudo-idiom is understandable in English.)