Saturday, December 19, 2020

Solar panels driving heroin production in Afghanistan

Helmand province in Afghanistan is the heart of the most productive opium-growing region on earth. Roughly 2/3 of world heroin production comes from Helmand.
Adulterated diesel in remote areas causes pumps and generators to regularly break down and require repair. The deserts of Helmand are being turned into new growing areas through the use of solar panels. Arrays of solar panels feed pumps that bring groundwater to reservoirs. The first report of an Afghan farmer using solar power was in 2013. Since then growth has been exponential.

Buying diesel to power their pumps used to be the farmers' biggest expense. An array of solar panels and an electric pump has virtually no running costs.

New farms are appearing further into the desert. In 2013 157,000 hectares were under cultivation. In 2019 it was 344,000 hectares.

In 2017 there was bumper opium harvest of 9,000 tonnes which crashed prices. Overall production decreased, but not for the farmers with solar power in Helmond Province. This increase in productivity has been felt around the world.