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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:

“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

Natural Resources Management, Farming Systems and Rural Livelihoods

This paper synthesises the preliminary findings, conclusions and recommendations emerging from the first year of AREU’s study, “Applied Thematic Research into Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy” (abbreviated as WOL). It examines irrigation methods and water management systems, and Read More

Opium Poppy and Informal Credit

This issues paper examines the link between opium poppy cultivation and informal credit systems in Afghanistan. The report challenges  assumptions that opium poppy cultivation results in particularly harmful debt and high-cost credit. It encourages deeper scrutiny into opium’s role in Read More

Opportunities for Pro-Poor Agricultural Growth

This paper brings together key findings and recommendations from three years of research conducted by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) under the “Applied Thematic Research into Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy” project (hereafter abbreviated to WOL). Read More

Resurgence and Reduction: Explanations for Changing Levels of Opium Poppy Cultivation in Nangarhar and Ghor in 2006-07

This case study looks at changes in opium poppy cultivation from 2005-06 to 2006-07 in two provinces of Afghanistan: Nangarhar and Ghor. Drawing on three years of fieldwork, it highlights that rural households cultivating opium poppy do not necessarily generate Read More

How the Water Flows: A Typology of Irrigation Systems in Afghanistan

This issues paper develops and presents a typology of irrigation systems in Afghanistan. It is intended to enhance knowledge of irrigation methods and management with the aim of improving system performance and productivity. It is also intended to provide those Read More

Evidence from the Field: Understanding Changing Levels of Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan

For many rural households the cultivation of opium poppy represents the key means by which they can achieve welfare under the conditions of pervasive risk and insecurity in Afghanistan. This briefing paper argues that understanding changing levels of opium poppy Read More

Marketing of Livestock

This case study is part of AREU’s three-year study on “Applied Thematic Research into Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy.” It analyses livestock marketing from producers through to butchers, identifies inefficiencies in livestock marketing chains, and recommends policies that Read More

The Spread of Opium Poppy Cultivation in Balkh

This case study builds on preliminary research undertaken in March 2006 and published as Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy: Opium Poppy Cultivation in Kunduz and Balkh in June 2006. It centres on Balkh Province, its structures of ethnicity Read More

Livestock Feed and Products

This study was undertaken as part of AREU’s applied thematic research project “Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy.” This report analyses the opportunities and constraints that relate to different products under different management systems, and considers their implications for Read More