THIS IS YOUR GOVERNMENT ON DRUGS

The War on Drugs has a lot in common with the War on Terror: it’s ill-conceived, badly executed, and totally counterproductive.

And both wars have had some disastrous agricultural consequences, at home and abroad.

Under the Taliban, poppy crops were illegal. This year’s poppy crop in Afghanistan is 59% higher than last year’s; it’s estimated that this will enable Afghanistan to meet 130% of the world’s demand for heroin.

According to Anne Brodsky, author of With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, when we toppled the Taliban, the seeds for a bumper crop of poppies were sown:

The one thing the Taliban did, you have to say, is they kept control. With them gone there was no one keeping control and anyone could do anything and that's where the beginning of the rise of the poppy crops came from. The other thing that was happening was that there had been a 4-5 year drought and poppies are quite drought resistance so it became a sort of quick thing that you could put in and it would grow in very degraded soil without a lot of water and so, farmers said to themselves, I know this isn't right, this isn't the crop I want to grow, but what do I do, my family will starve. Now what we're starting to hear alot more is that farmers are saying, they’re forcing me to do it, I don't have a choice. Someone is coming with a gun and telling me what to do with my land.

And who reaps the poppy profits? “That money doesn't go to the farmers, the farmers are estimated to get about 10% of that,“ Brodsky says. “The money's going to warlords, the Taliban, the drug dealers, and the criminals.”

Hugo Chavez got tons of press at the United Nations last month when he held up a copy of a Noam Chomsky book, but hardly anyone took notice when President Evo Morales of Bolivia waved a coca leaf and challenged U.S. drug policies in Bolivia.

Hardly anyone, that is, except John Tierney, who wrote a semi-seditious column seconding Morales’ pro-coca sentiments. Tierney quotes Morales, a former coca grower himself:

"It has been demonstrated that the coca leaf does no harm to human health," he said, a statement that's much closer to the truth than Washington's take on these leaves. The white powder sold on the streets of America is dangerous because it's such a concentrated form of cocaine, but just about any substance can be perilous at a high enough dose.

South Americans routinely drink coca tea and chew coca leaves. The tiny amount of cocaine in the leaves is a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant that isn't more frightening than coffee or colas -- in fact, it might be less addictive than caffeine, and on balance it might even be good for you. When the World Health Organization asked scientists to investigate coca in the 1990's, they said it didn't seem to cause health problems and might yield health benefits.

But American officials fought against the publication of the report and against the loosening of restrictions on coca products, just as they've resisted proposals to let Afghan farmers sell opium to pharmaceutical companies instead of to narco-traffickers allied with the Taliban. The American policy is to keep attacking the crops, even if that impoverishes peasants -- or, more typically, turns them into criminals.

Our efforts to eradicate coca crops in South America have been an utter failure. Coca remains Colombia’s no. 1 cash crop despite our having spent $4 billion dollars to battle it, by, among other things, encouraging farmers to grow other crops.

In Peru, the world’s no. 2 producer of coca, we’ve spent some $330 million to fight coca growing. The result? Peru’s coca output jumped nearly 40% last year.

Our attempts to convince Peruvian farmers to stop growing coca have, however, accomplished one thing: they’ve succeeded in nearly wiping out American asparagus farmers.

Yes, that’s right, thanks to our idiotic drug policies, farmers who’ve been growing asparagus for generations in Michigan can’t compete with asparagus from Peru, where workers are paid $2 a day, compared to the $800 a week Michigan farmers pay their workers.

I learned this astonishing, appalling fact from ASPARAGUS!, a “stalk-umentary“ by Anne de Mare & Kirsten Kelly which paints a loving portrait of a proud, hard-working community of farmers watching their livelihood get plowed under as cheap Peruvian asparagus subsidized by the U.S. floods the American market.

The film is fascinating, funny and infuriating; I wish everybody could see it, and if you’re in NYC this weekend, you can—it’s playing at the Museum of Television & Radio’s DOCFEST, this Saturday, October 14th @ 1:30 p.m. (25 West 52nd Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues.) And please note that if you get your tickets in advance at mtr.org and use the special promotional codes “mtrdocs” or “Americana,” you can get discounted tickets - so bring your friends!

Watch the ASPARAGUS! trailer at the top of this post, and be amazed at the resilience of the American asparagus farmers, and the brain-dead policies of our government (the trailer is also included in the Media That Matters Good Food Film Festival, which offers a collection of shorts on food and sustainability that you can view online; more on this wonderful festival coming soon!)