New Delhi, Feb 7: A joint British and World Bank study has suggested a package of development solutions to wean Afghanistan's rural communities from dependence on opium production to pull out the frontline state against global terrorism from the quagmire it is enmeshed in.
Afghanistan produces and trades more than 90 per cent of the world's illicit opium. The size of the opium economy is around 30 per cent of the country's legitimate GDP, and millions of Afghans benefit directly or indirectly from it. "Chasing quick fixes in the hope of rapid reduction of opium production creates illusions and undermines long-term impacts,'' said William Byrd, World Bank economist and co-author of the report 'Afghanistan: Economic Incentives and Development Initiatives to Reduce Opium Production'.
''The dividend will be in the medium to long term, and will be reaped through consistent approaches, persistence in the face of short-term setbacks, and massive, coordinated, and sustained investments,'' he added.
Calling for sustained investments in the rural agricultural economy of the landlocked state, the report by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and World Bank urges Afghanistan's foreign community to shop locally and encourage local production.
Stating that a worldwide study found that only four-nine per cent of the benefits of international peace-keeping budgets stay in the host country, the report urges all governments supporting the Afghanistan to make firm commitments to sharply increase local procurement. The bulk of such procurement would be high-value agricultural produce, and much of it could be grown in opium-vulnerable areas.
Many areas of Afghanistan have potential for producing high-value horticultural, industrial, or export crops such as oilseeds, fruits and nuts, cotton, and vegetables. The report says an integrated production and market development programme for such crops can yield huge benefits.
While accepting that options to wean dependence on opium production in the most insecure places like Helmand province are even more limited, the report says that it may be possible to invest heavily in enclaves in and around cities; support labour-intensive public works; expand rural road coverage where the security situation permits; and promote investment in human capital, if necessary, in educational institutions elsewhere.
The report emphasises that the progressive elimination of the opium economy in Afghanistan will come about through the creation of a web of good governance and incentives in favour of legal economic activities. All of this will take time, sustained commitment, and resources.
It suggests that package of interventions in Afghanistan's broader counter-narcotics strategy should also include law enforcement, political and administrative actions, improving security, better governance, awareness-building, and demand reduction and treatment.
The economic challenge of opium, the report says, is overwhelmingly a rural one. ''Opium is the most valuable agricultural activity, and it provides income and employment for hundreds of thousands of Afghans,'' it adds.
The report says the drug economy thrives in remote or insecure areas where markets for other crops and alternative livelihoods are lacking.
Today, production is increasingly concentrated in five southern provinces where the security situation is most acute. This makes it vital that alternatives to opium address the problems of these vulnerable rural farmers by supporting their access to land, credit, food security, and sustainable economic livelihoods.
The report suggests a development effort over several years which will put in place a critical mass of infrastructure, markets, and services that can spur sustainable growth.
It is also essential, the report argues, to ensure security and support better governance and effective grassroots institutions.
This will strengthen the relationship of responsibility and trust between rural people and their local and central government.
Once these conditions are in place, the report says experience shows that reductions in opium poppy cultivation can be achieved.
Giving an illustration, the report says reductions in opium poppy cultivation have been achieved in a relatively short time in those parts of Badakhshan province where households are in close proximity to urban areas and have access to both agricultural commodity and labour markets.
''A strong institutional framework needs to be built, based on the promising community institutions already set up by efforts like the National Solidarity Programme,'' said Alastair Mckechnie, World Bank country director for Afghanistan.
Besides these medium and long-term measures, the report suggests six short-term interventions to achieve the objective. These are accelerating rural development through community-based programmes; expanding arable agricultural land through irrigation; and increasing livestock to provide more livelihoods and assets for the poor.
These also include creating opportunities for rural enterprise and business development; encouraging international partners involved in protecting and rebuilding Afghanistan to buy and hire locally, and to exploit potential opportunities for production and marketing of suitable industrial crops.
While recognising that insurgency and conflict in some parts of the country narrow the scope for development, the report suggests maximising local ownership and community engagement; working with local implementing partners and staff, preferably from the communities; ensuring that projects are at the top of local communities' priorities; and removing 'foreign badging' from projects.
Having suggested a comprehensive development package, the report still cautions that there should be no illusion however about prospects if conflict and insecurity continue at current levels.
The report says linking support to rural development with governance-building can have a large impact on livelihoods and, in turn, on the opium economy.
It calls for scaling up and combining successful ongoing national programmes like the National Rural Access Programme and the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) that have proven very effective in delivering investments in rural areas.
It also proposes expanding the role of Community Development Councils (CDCs) set up as part of NSP as local development partners. This will help rural communities to build the physical and institutional infrastructure needed to support a shift towards commercial activity.
Infrastructure, the report says, is particularly critical. Currently, 108 out of Afghanistan's 396 districts have no road access to their provincial capital.
The report identifies irrigation and livestock as prime areas for support. Afghanistan is an arid land where most agricultural production requires irrigation, making it essential for building livelihoods and helping farmers move to higher-value cropping.It proposes a phased 10-year programme for 1.2 billion dollar investments.
The report says better access by Afghan trucks to neighbouring countries, pooled financing, scaling up industrial parks, improving export standards, and strengthening the Customs service will help in creating jobs and wealth in the land-locked country.