Afghanistan: Helmand Governor turns opium poppy fields into food zones

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The first Governor-led initiative to tackle opium poppy in Afghanistan took a big step forward this week with the launch of a =A36 million programme to support wheat farming in Helmand.

To mark the start of the programme, counter narcotics ministers General Khodaidad and General Daud flew to Lashkar Gah today (Tuesday) to join Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal at a distribution centre and met the farmers who are swapping poppy for wheat.

The Food Zones programme, coming at a time of national wheat and food shortage, is a timely initiative that will see wheat seed and fertiliser being distributed to 32,000 farmers in Helmand province. This is enough seed to grow 26,000 hectares of wheat.

Governor Mangal is using the Food Zone programme as part of the first Governor-led counter narcotics plan in Afghanistan. All farmers receiving the free wheat seed will sign a commitment not to grow poppy and future eradication will be targeted at the areas where farmers have signed up to the Food Zone programme.

Farmers who join the Food Zone scheme can be confident that they will have a market for their crop, as an Afghan company has offered to purchase the province's surplus.

Addressing farmers at the launch of the Food Zones programme, Governor Mangal said:

"The Food Zone programme is an opportunity for farmers to provide much needed food for their country and turn their back on poppy. Poppy is hurting our communities, closing our schools and financing criminals and terrorists. It is especially immoral to be growing it at a time when fellow Afghans are going hungry. We should be using our rich natural resources and talents to grow food for the country, not poppy, which is against Islam."

Notes to editors

The Food Zones programme is being run by Helmand's Governor Mangal with support from the British Government's Department for International Development which has provided $4 million. The British led Provincial Reconstruction Team , an international team of experts based in Lashkar Gah, has donated a further $4.25 million and USAID gave $3 million.

The scheme comes at a time when the World Food Programme and the Government of Afghanistan has warned of an impending food crisis from soaring wheat prices and poor harvests. It will increase food supply to vulnerable people in Afghanistan. DFID Secretary of State Douglas Alexander last month pledged an extra =A35 million to the World Food Programme Afghanistan appeal bringing the total donated this year to =A38 million.

Contact David Rigby, DFID press office 0207-023-0821,