For farming families living in rural Afghanistan life can be tough, and many struggle to make ends meet. As the climate has changed, the weather has become increasingly unpredictable and it is harder and harder to make a living off the land.

For these families, growing weather- and pest-resistant opium poppy seed offers a reliable source of income that is not available with other crops.

Why is this a problem?

The illicit drug economy exacerbates insecurity, corruption and conflict, and contributes to drug use in the country. But it is a global problem too. Afghanistan’s opium poppy harvest is used in the production of more than 90% of the world’s illicit heroin and has been the leading producer of opium since 1992.

How are we tackling this problem?

We are working with partners on this issue by providing families with viable alternative livelihood options. We are supporting farmers in Badakhshan and Takhar - remote and poor provinces in north-eastern Afghanistan - providing them with tools and training in licit alternatives such as cultivating medicinal plants or potatoes, with the aim of reducing the production of opium in Afghanistan.

How does this work?

One woman we have helped is Shakila from Argo district in Badakhshan. Shakila is a widow and in the past her 6 children often had to miss school to help her with the watering, thinning and weeding of the poppy field.

Shakila was born into a very poor family who struggled to afford even the basic essentials, so she grew up with very little. She was just 15 years old when she was married off to her late husband. The marriage was not her choice but, in return, his family gave her parents some poppy seed to grow on their land - a vital source of income for the struggling family.

“This was not an unusual practice in my village and lots of other girls my age had the same experience. My husband’s family made their living through cultivating poppy seed to sell and, following my marriage, I learned to do the same. When my husband passed away this was my only source of income.”

After the death of her husband, Shakila was not able to grow enough poppy seed and did not have the business know-how to make the most of what she was able to grow.

“Although I was working very hard, I could not provide enough food for my children and for the past year I was really worried for them.

I have one cow and some hens but I did not know how to get the most out of them either. On Afghanaid’s training course I learned all about milk pasteurisation and I am now working in a dairy centre set up by Afghanaid making cream, cheese and yoghurts.

I also took part in one of Afghanaid’s business courses and learned how to sell these products, which has enabled me to sell other products too - like eggs, vegetables and handicrafts at the local market.”

“Now I can generate sufficient income to support my family, we are all much healthier and my children are able to attend school consistently. Since they are now able to get a proper education, I know that my children will not be forced into difficult situations like I have been, they will be able to find their proper place in society and get a good job in the future.

In the dairy centre, I work with lots of different women from around the area. I really enjoy meeting and getting to know more people and we women learn a lot from each other too - and not just about the milk! We use our contacts in the dairy centre to find out where other villages have gaps in their market which we might be able to fill with products from our own villages too.

I feel much happier now and I hope in the future I will be able to open a private dairy centre of my own, to provide more women with jobs and supply more people in the area with good quality products.”

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