Afghanistan (Poppy Cultivation)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence) 2:30 pm, 29th March 2010

If he will make it his policy for UK forces to encourage the replacement of poppy cultivation by the growing of pomegranates in Afghanistan.

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The UK is supporting alternative livelihoods programmes in Afghanistan, which provide practical advice and support to farmers, to enable them to move away from poppy cultivation. In Helmand, we are supporting Governor Mangal's counter-narcotics plan, which distributes wheat seed, fertiliser, saplings and seeds for summer crops, and the establishment of an agricultural school. Pomegranates are one option available to Afghan farmers.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank the Minister for that response. I think there is agreement across the House that the solution will not just be a military one; it must be political and economic. On that basis, will his Department try to support the British charity POM354, which believes that the growing of pomegranates is more profitable for Afghan farmers than the growing of either wheat or opium poppies?

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a real interest in this issue and I agree with him that there cannot be an exclusively military solution in Afghanistan-there has to be a political one, too.

In respect of the particular proposal to which he is referring, James Brett, the founder of the charity POM354, met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development. At that meeting, it was recommended that Mr. Brett should produce a detailed business plan that will not only help to maximise the programme's chances of success but help conversations with potential donors. I reiterate that advice and DFID officials are willing to provide advice on such a plan.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I welcome the proposals to support the growing of pomegranates, wheat, raisins and alternative crops that have been proposed by Afghan farmers over many years, but does the Minister understand that for them the key issue is not what they will be encouraged to grow but who will be a secure buyer of what they grow? Has the Minister any plans to step in and at least recognise that the starting point for what they grow at the moment is the poppy crop and that we ought to be looking at ways in which that can legitimately be used for the production of diamorphine?

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Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I genuinely disagree with my hon. Friend. I think that if we followed the path that he is advocating, in circumstances in which it is not possible to provide security across the board, we would simply be creating a second market for poppy cultivation. That is why-across government, with our international partners and supporting the Afghan Government-we must create an environment in which it is possible for alternative crops to be produced. I genuinely do not believe that the course set out by my hon. Friend would help us to achieve that.

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