Sugarcane, not opium: one drug answer?
Chamla Valley, Northwest Pakistan, and Bogota, Colombia
Tall and thin, and wearing a long white shirt and baggy trousers, Pathan tribesman Mahman Dullah left his two-bullock plow and described how he was about to harvest half an acre of sugar cane on his best patch of ground.Skip to next paragraph
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He was no ordinary farmer. He and thousands of other Pakistani farmers are being watched with intense interest in New York, Washington, London Dublin, Boon , Rome, Vienna, and other capitals.
Until recently, Mahman and his family grew opium poppies. His were part of 9, 000 acres of poppies in the Buner district of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, five hours by twisting, mountainous road from Islamabad, and formerly the single largest poppy-growing area in the country.
Now a government prohibition order is backed by armed force. He had to plant another cash crop than wheat, which is his subsistence crop. Thanks to advice and seeds from a United Nations development program, he has turned to sugar cane.
The result: He says he is growing no poppies at all this year. The government says no poppies are being grown in Buner as a whole.
Can this be a crucial answer to world drug supplies - cutting them off in the very fields where they grow?
Well - maybe. There are plenty of skeptics - some recent West German visitors to the area, for instance.
They say poppies are still grown within sight of some Pakistani military facilities, that local tribal leaders, police, and military connive to continue growing poppies, that farmers are easily able to grow them closer to the Afghanistan border where government authority is virtually nonexistent, that farmers like Mahman do not tell the truth to strangers.
Even some UN officials in Vienna worry that it is hard to be sure that farmers are not simply planting poppy fields near the Afghan border areas to escape government agents.
It certainly remains true that the major loophole in this region is Afghanistan, whose Pathan tribesmen still produce as many as 300 metric tons of opium a year. They funnel both opium and refined heroin to Europe and North America via Pakistan and India.
Nonetheless, the UN program here has made at least some forward steps in rural development and in irrigation. It has begun to widen farmers' vision from poppies to other crops.
This, then is one way being tried to reduce supplies of drugs: rural development including substituting more conventional crops for opium poppies.
United States and UN officials recognize that it is a long and difficult process, but they say it is well worthwhile. The further drug crops move from the fields where they grow the more difficult they are to intercept and seize. With every step in the illicit distribution network, organic drugs are refined into smaller more concentrated quantities, easier to conceal and increasing greatly in value.
As well as substituting other crops, there is one other way to shut off supplies at the source: eradication by digging up or spraying. Eradication of coca in Columbia
On the eastern Andean slopes of Columbia, young coca-leaf bushes spread like a green tide over 30,000 to 40,000 acres. Along the northern coastal strip of the Guajira, marijuana flourishes.
In Bogota, cocaine addiction has suddenly erupted like a flame. Only two years ago, there were almost no cocaine addicts here. Now US officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands.
The US, which receives 90 percent of its illicit cocaine and 60 percent of its marijuana from Colombia, wants President Belisario Betancur to start serious digging up of coca plants and massive aerial spraying of marijuana. But the necessary approval order for spraying is still lying on the President's desk, unsigned.
Pressures on the President not to sign come from the wealthy and powerful ''cocaine cartel'' in Columbia which generates some $2 billion a year in illicit drug traffic.
Another worry by those who want tougher action: President Betancur is a leading member of the four-nation Contadora group (Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela) that is trying to mediate in Central America. President Reagan wants the group's support - and is under pressure to reduce US pressure on the drug trade to get it.