By Abdul Haleem
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, July 12 (Xinhua) -- "We can earn more money from selling grapes than opium poppy if we have market for our products," said Ehsanullah, 38, a farmer from Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.
Infamous for growing poppy and increasing insurgency, the restive Helmand province has been regarded as a hotbed for the Taliban outfit, which rules parts of the province over the past more than a decade.
Farmers cultivated poppy on 163,000 hectares of land in militancy-plagued Afghanistan in 2019, according to a report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released in June.
Although there is no exact figure on the poppy harvested in Helmand last year, the restive province and its neighboring Kandahar were among the major producers of the contraband in the country.
"Helmand's climate is suitable for rowing grapes. We also can have reasonable income if find market for the product," Ehsanullah, who turned part of his agricultural land to a grape garden outside Lashkar Gah a few years ago, told Xinhua.
Ehsanullah described poppy cultivation, drug production and trafficking as a "stigma" for the province, and called upon other farmers to grow legal crops. "By growing grapes I like to earn honor for my province from one hand, and from the other side, to earn money and support my family," he said.
Following Ehsanullah's move, another farmer Sayed Ahmad also turned part of his farmland to a vineyard a couple of years ago. Ahmad said he is satisfied with the outcome of his grapes.
Collecting clusters of grapes with his brother from his garden, Ahamd said "The price of grape in local market is reasonable nowadays. I hope government could help farmers export their grape outside the country."
The price of 7 kg of grapes in the local market is 350 afghani (4.5 U.S. dollars) to 500 afghani (6.5 U.S. dollars).
"It is predicted that Helmand would supply about 90,750 tons grape to local market in Helmand and other provinces this year," head of the provincial Agriculture Department Zalmay Alko told Xinhua.
He said the government is committed to supporting the farmers to grow grapes, melons, watermelons, wheats, rice and other legal crops.
According to the official, many farmers in Helmand and neighboring provinces have given up poppy cultivation and switched to planting legal crops.
Zabihullah Aoliazada, director of Agriculture Department in the neighboring Nimroz province, also said many farmers have replaced poppy to legal crops, adding that more than 700,000 tons of melons have been harvested in Chakhansor district of Nimroz province this year.