Sowing new seeds

By Kate Hassett

Image: Reuters
Image: Reuters
In a major breakthrough for the war on drugs, this spice company could change the outlook for Afghanistan's opium farmers.

In a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, findings have expressed that not only is illicit opium production in Afghanistan overtly present, it is actually increasing at a steady rate.

Since 2000, the Afghan government, assisted by the international community and aid organisations, have been working to eradicate opium production throughout Afghanistan. However, this recent report has shown that apart from these efforts seemingly failing to hinder production, they have also pushed farmers to increase their output, catapulting opium production to an all time high.

Afghanistan, which is responsible for three-quarters of the world’s opium, produced more than 6,000 tonnes of opium, worth roughly $3 billion in 2013 alone.

This highly profitable product is not only the most viable option for a country whose economy relies on agriculture above all else, but it is the most labour intensive form of agriculture. Simply put, if farmers were to switch their fields of poppies to fields of wheat, employment would drop to about 20% of what it currently stands at.

“There’s no legal economy in Afghanistan that can match the profits and the amount of people opium can employ,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and expert on counter-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan, told VICE News.

Image: Reuters

So what are farmers to do when there seems to be no viable option to replace opium production?

When Emily Miller left the military she was left wanting. Searching for a meaningful path to start her new life upon, she became increasingly unsatisfied with the military’s response to Afghanistan’s economic and political instability.

During her time in the region, Miller was exposed to the economic hardship many agriculturalists experience, and especially their limited options when it came to producing profitable crops.

The answer? Miller began Rumi Spice, a product that supplies the highly valuable saffron, produced exclusively by Afghan farmers internationally as an alternative to growing poppy.

“I started Rumi Spice because it’s not charity; it’s not us prescribing solutions for other people. We’re literally giving people a direct livelihood and income when we buy saffron from these farmers,” Miller told PBS.

Image: Reuters

The company is seeking to provide economic empowerment, as well as freedom, giving farmers a choice when they would otherwise be struggling to find an alternative.

“We understand first-hand the challenges and opportunities facing the country, and the need to strengthen Afghanistan’s greatest resource: its people,” the Rumi Spice website says. “By connecting Afghan farmers directly to the international market, we seek to catalyse market driven economic development — one farmer at a time.”

“Saffron is an alternative to growing poppy, the main ingredient in opium. It provides six times more more income than poppy for farmers.”

Rumi Spice provides an economic model that maximises profits for the farmers whilst providing funds for agricultural infrastructure development. At the moment, the farmers process the saffron and Rumi Spice packages and distributes the product within the U.S. However, the company has begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund a processing facility on Afghanistan soil which would further increase levels of employment.





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