The theme of World Drug Day 2023 is “People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention.” To commemorate the day, UNODC is highlighting its work on drug prevention – including alternative development initiatives - and treatment around the world.
Mohammad Iqbal, a farmer in the Gushta district of Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, walks through the footpaths separating his orchard. “This was barren land four years ago,” he says, gesturing to the flowering trees. “Now, it is covered with colorful citrus trees.”
Nangarhar, the province where Mohammad’s orchard is located, is famous in Afghanistan for its semi-tropical climate. Its soil is particularly conducive to growing citrus, particularly sweet orange.
In the past, predominantly small citrus growers used traditional orchard techniques to manage their citrus farms. But decades of war, coupled with several consecutive droughts, have made it difficult to access sufficient irrigation water for their farms. With continued instability in temperatures – as well as the frequency and severity of droughts and floods – many were unable to maintain production using these traditional methods, jeopardizing their food security and livelihoods.
Many citrus farmers therefore switched to poppy cultivation, helping Nangahar to remain one of the highest poppy producing provinces in eastern Afghanistan.
Poppy plants produce opium, and according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC), Afghanistan supplies 80 per cent of the global supply of the drug.
In 2020, UNODC introduced an Alternative Development programme seeking to improve water efficiency to make it easier for farmers to grow legal crops. Alternative development initiatives seek to provide sustainable livelihoods to communities that cultivate illicit drug crops because they are unable to obtain sufficient income from legal activities due to conflict or lack of markets, basic infrastructure, or land.
Support was provided to rehabilitate the citrus orchards of 500 farmers who had turned to poppy cultivation. Each farmer was provided with solar power systems, drip irrigation materials, training, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) kits in order to cope with the negative effects of climate change.
Drip irrigation systems are well suited to areas affected by drought, as they allow farmers to feed their crops while conserving up to 70 per cent of water.
Mohammad’s farm, with no access to irrigation water, had become barren before he entered the programme. Equipped with a new drip irrigation system for two hectares of his lemon orchard, the formerly useless land began supplying fruit. In 2022, Mohammad harvested 115.5 tons of lemon, worth approximately AFN 3,300,000 (US$ 37,930).
Emboldened by Mohammad’s success, several other farmers joined the programme and installed drip irrigation systems. “These trees not only bring fruit to our village,” said Mohammad proudly, “but beauty, too.”