According to a recent press release by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Afghanistan is currently the world's largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient for heroin. In 2005, most of the heroin sold in Europe was thought to originate from Afghanistan.

Strategies are constantly being sought to eradicate cultivation of the opium poppy in this country. One of the main problems to overcome is that a majority of Afghan farmers who grow poppy do so because they have no other viable options; other crops simply don't offer the same degree of income.

One essential step towards the success of this strategy, therefore, is to encourage Afghan farmers to grow alternative crops that will be able to provide them a livelihood.

"Essential oils as alternatives to the opium poppy?"

Afghanistan has a high level of biodiversity, and a number of 'niche' crops, suited to cultivation in Afghanistan, are currently being investigated as alternatives to the opium poppy. These include plants from which essential oils and spices are derived, as well as new fruit crops.

Essential oils

A number of companies in Afghanistan are investigating the production of essential oils such as bitter orange blossom and rose for use by the perfume industry. Orange blossom and rose are native to Afghanistan, as is jasmine, and the climate is ideal for their cultivation.


Afghanistan is rich in herbs and spices, and the country already includes ginger, turmeric and saffron among its exports. Saffron in particular is an extremely valuable crop: the aromatic dried stamens of the flowers have been used widely for thousands of years, not only in cooking but also to make perfumes, dyes and herbal medicines. Saffron is much in demand in the west, and its use in Afghanistan as a possible alternative to poppy is currently being evaluated.

Fruit crops

Apricots, grapes and raisins, and nuts, such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts, are already commercially cultivated in Afghanistan for export to other countries. Markets for less common crops, such as mulberries and pomegranates, both of which are widely grown in Afghanistan, are also being investigated (especially in light of the recent popularity in the west for pomegranates as the newest health remedy).


In order to achieve the successful eradication of opium poppy cultivation, it is essential that Afghan farmers are able to grow realistically viable alternative crops. Although a number of crops are currently being evaluated, the creation of alternative income opportunities will probably take many years, and will require long-term commitment from, and support for, those who may be adversely affected by switching from poppy cultivation.


Author's Bio: 

Alix Williams is a regular contributor to the holistic website a home based UK business providing hand made Aromatherapy Stress Relief Gifts.

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