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Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy

Founder(s): European Commission
Status: Completed
The multi-year “Applied Thematic Research into Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy” (WOL) is the largest ever project undertaken by AREU. It was designed to provide policymakers with an accurate picture of the complex role natural resources play in Afghan farm systems, with the ultimate aim of improving the sustainability of rural livelihoods and reducing farmers’ reliance on opium production. The eight-province study was conducted in collaboration with numerous implementing partners, including the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) and German Agro Action (now Welthungerhilfe—WHH).
The research found strong evidence of systemic inequalities that limited access to natural resources for many Afghans. While geography, ethnicity and politics play a part, traditional community-level institutions such as mirabs (village water masters) often compound the problem by enforcing existing power and wealth structures, especially in areas where resources are scarce. This raises important questions over the applicability of programmes that target community-level institutions of resource management as a basis for growth.  The study also suggests that policies focusing on development via market mechanisms are unlikely to help the most poor, many of whom already struggle to meet subsistence needs or are locked in highly exploitative sharecropping agreements with wealthier landlords.
Farmers’ access to resources and markets, opportunities for alternative incomes and level of agricultural diversity all feed into a complex decision on whether or not to grow opium poppies. WOL data suggests that rural households are often more than willing to turn their backs on poppy production where viable alternatives exist. Creating such an environment is critical to ensuring the legitimacy and longevity of bans on opium production, and will be one of the country’s major policy challenges in the coming years.
Publications from this research project:

Where Have all the Flowers Gone? Assessing the Sustainability of Current Reductions in Opium Poppy Cultivation

Levels of opium poppy cultivation have fallen in Afghanistan for two consecutive years and it now appears that cultivation will be maintained at this relatively low level for another year. This briefing paper examines the reasons behind the reductions and Read More

Creating Pro-Poor Agricultural Growth: Workshop Proceedings

Proceedings of the workshop marking the completion of AREU’s multi-year Water, Opium and Livestock (WOL) research project.

Challenges and Opportunities for Strengthening Licit Agricultural Livelihoods

This paper brings together key findings and recommendations arising from the second year of research conducted by AREU under the auspices of the “Applied Thematic Research into Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy” project.

Findings from the First Year of Farm and Household Monitoring

This report provides a summary overview of the results from the first year of farm and household monitoring undertaken under the auspices of the European Commission-funded project “Applied Thematic Research into Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy.” Farm and Read More

Interrogating Irrigation Inequities: Canal Irrigation Systems in Injil District, Herat

This report presents the findings of a case study looking at irrigation systems in Injil District in Herat Province. The purpose of the study was to understand inequities and inequalities in irrigation distribution in a typical canal irrigation system. Two Read More

Research and Development for Better Livestock Productivity

Knowing the levels of production and prices of livestock found in the main production systems is essential when taking decisions about the importance that should be given to nutrition, health, breeding and management. This case study on livestock undertaken by Read More

Water Strategy Meets Local Reality

Afghanistan is attempting to adopt internationally recommended water management policies. This report from AREU explores different Afghan drafts of the Water Sector Strategy and the Water Law and how they reflect these international recommendations. Subsequently, it compares these drafts with Read More

A Historical Perspective on the Mirab System: A Case Study of the Jangharoq Canal, Baghlan

The Afghan government and others working in the water and irrigation sector have highlighted the importance of the so-called traditional mirab (water master) system to collective water management in the country. In the relevant policy documents, however, the definitions of Read More

Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan: The Failure of Success?

The briefing paper argues that to truly understand what will create sustainable change in the Afghan opium industry, observers need to improve the tools being used to measure the success of counter-narcotics efforts. Measuring opium poppy-cultivated area serves as one Read More

“Let Them Eat Promises” — Closing the Opium Poppy Fields in Balkh and its Consequences

International agencies have claimed that incentives and improvements in security and governance preceded and led to the end of opium cultivation in Balkh Province in 2007. Afghan officials offer a different interpretation of events, effectively admitting that the closure was Read More