Announcements through loudspeakers and notices in Pashto language affixed on roadsides, shops and local Hujras by Political Administration and security forces warning the returning Internally displaced People (IDPs) not to cultivate marijuana (Bhang: in local parlance) and opium crops (Dhodhy) in Tirah, the fertile valley of Khyber agency.
The valley was evacuated of the people in 2014 when forces launched operation against militants. After two years, in October 2016, the areas of Akakhel, Dars Jumat, Maidan and Shadally were [declared] cleared by the security forces and the political administration announced the homecoming of the people.
The issue at hand involves the local people; whose primary livelihood is growing cash crops (Opium and Hashish) and vegetables, dairy, cattle and calves breeding, Maliks; the political and security administration and the agriculture office of FATA secretariat. Nongovernmental organizations like Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) can facilitate the solution of this conflict.
The repatriating people are worried as their houses and bazaars have been destroyed and economic activities displaced. Manzoor Khan, a returnee says that restoring life without these cash crops and any alternative provided will be next to impossible.
An elder Zareen Khan of Zari Kot Area recalled that before Afghan Jihad [soviet war 1979], they did not know about marijuana and poppy. “We would sow potatoes, maize, beans and sugar pumpkins alongside dry fruits, but once these crops were brought here —seeing its greater cash reward— the people of tribal areas converted to cultivating these alien Haram crops”.
When contacted Assistant political agent Khyber Fida Wazir told this scribe that poppy crop was long banned in these areas but tribal people defied the orders of the government. “Each year we conduct operations to destroy hundreds of acres of standing poppy crops” he asserted. Anwar Afridi, a Science teacher in a government school condemned the quick-fix solutions of the government and asked the same for providing a sustainable alternative to the people. “Banning these crops just creates a cultivation-vacuum leaving the already estranged tribal people with no option but to starve”, he argued.
When Deputy Director Agriculture Mateen Shinwari was asked what alternative were available to the people, he declared that the area [Tirah] had a great potential for Black tea production. Also fruits like walnuts, peaches, apple, almond, apricot, Guava, Figs and plums can be grown on commercial basis as the area has conducive soil and weather, he claimed.
According to the 2010 report of National Tea Research Institute (NTRI) Shinkiari, more than 80 acres of land in Tirah has been identified as suitable for tea plantation. Three basic factors involved in its cultivation are annual rainfall above 1000 mm, air temperature 10′, soil pH value ranging from 4.5 to 6.5 and cheap labor availability, all in which the area [Tirah] is rich, acknowledges NTRI. The tea produced as samples in Miranshah (North Waziristan) and Tirah were found to be next only to Kenyan tea in quality, an officer of the NTRI revealed to this reporter.
Mamoor Jan, a tea trader in Jamrud observed that the government’s apathy is the main hindrance in the tea production in Tirah. “We import hundreds of tons tea from other countries through Afghanistan which can be produced locally avoiding revenue loss and discouraging smuggling alongside providing profitable farming to the local people” he advised.
A Jirga of the local elders, security and political officials and representatives from Agricultural and Food Cell FATA was held in Maidan area of the valley in January this year. Although it banned hash and opium crops unanimously and vowed for providing incentives such as seeds, fertilizers and cultivating machinery [tractors] for those who are willing to grow other crops, however it did not identify any alternative cash crops. Haji Shiramin, a local Malik is not satisfied with jirga’s decision. He says that people in this area do not have vast plane fields. “We have small uneven tracts/strips of lands which are not suitable for maize cultivation. Also we do not consume maize [flour]”. He said that wheat which is the biggest component of food cannot be produced in the area because of the frost in Rabi season.
Member of the National Assembly Nasir khan Afridi (NA-46) told this scribe that security was the main concern of the area. “After establishing peace or mainstreaming FATA, we would be able to experiment with new crops in the tribal belt” noted the parliamentarian. He said that Torghar is an example where such narcotics-crops were successfully transformed with other healthy ones after it [Torghar] was brought under provincial political mainstream.
While giving his opinion, Alhaj Shah Jee Gul Afridi (NA-45) stated that [re]introducing traditional and new alternative crops will be the best choice to curb the financial channels of the militancy. When asked what he has done in this regard, replied, “We have given directives to FATA secretariat and Political agent to jointly investigate the issue with the local people and come up with an implementable strategy”. We will provide every financial and political assistance to such a policy, he offered.
The MNA also pointed out that he was jointly working with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the issue. Rameez Paracha, an official of the FAO stated that 25 government officials from Khyber, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan and other agencies in the tribal belt, have successfully completed a five-day training at National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), Islamabad. Here they were introduced with modern cultivation techniques, claimed the officer.
Aurangzeb Afridi, a PhD student at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad who has conducted research in fisheries and alternative crops in the area, detailed his conclusions which can be an imminent solution to the problem at hand.
He proposed: Crops like maize, beans and pulses; vegetables of all kinds and dry fruit can be successfully grown in Tirah. This needs the priority of the government and will of the political agent. The government should convince the people through a robust public campaign ensuring them that the alternative crops will be more beneficial than poppy and hashish. Also incentivize them with seeds, new bio-fertilizer and farming machinery but in solid and non-partisan manner. This will be possible by first establishing agricultural offices in the area. These offices should coordinate with the local people involving maximum of them [in hiring] to give them a sense of ownership. Provide them training and knowledge/skills necessary for cultivating, maximizing yield, fertilizer usage, range management techniques, drying and packing of fruits and access to market. Also devise new market mechanisms as the current trading marketplace is fully dependant on opium and hashish business, people are fixated to; and feel uneasy in selling (petty) vegetables, crops or fruits which is [seen] against their long-held beliefs. This will help the conflict-stricken tribal people restore their livelihood with legal and healthy crops.
By: Azmat Khan