Aaquel’s Holiday Wish: Buy Food for My Children

By, Dee Rivers

“My one holiday wish is that I never again have to grow opium poppies so I can buy food for my little ones.”  -- Aaquel, Afghanistan

“Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a sobering record high in 2013. According to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, cultivation amounted to some 209,000 hectares ... and representing a 36 per cent increase over 2012.” 


GHNI’s hybrid poplar planting project is also reaching record highs, with more farmers transitioning yearly and the number of cuttings increasing by the thousands. Local leaders and national officials have committed to cooperation.

And there is this: The province in which the Valley of Ali* is located is declared in the aforementioned Summary Findings as being poppy-free!

Khalil is a farmer living in Afghanistan’s Valley of Ali. Before the scourge of war and the scorch of drought, Khalil and fellow farmers not only produced food for their families, but for markets.

Afghan orchards were laden with pomegranates, figs, apples and sweet Badami apricots. Fields burgeoned with corn, wheat, sugar beets and barley; vineyards draped hillsides. Pistachio, walnut, and almond trees flourished. 

But decades of war and natural disasters destroyed growing environments and created excruciating poverty. Fruit trees and vegetable fields vanished; hard times caused over-harvesting of nut trees, leaving them barren; vineyards withered and forests fell to men desperate for fuel to warm their families against bone-aching cold. 

Driven by these factors, farmers like Khalil, left destitute with the loss of an economy traditionally driven by agriculture, turned to growing Papaver somniferum -- the “sleep-bringing” opium poppy.

But into this seemingly hopeless economic scene, GHNI, partnering with Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA), brought hope to Khalil and other farmers in the Valley of Ali, in the form of hybrid poplar tree farming

There is an established and ready market for the tree, as it is used for fuel and in construction.

GHNI came to the Valley of Ali with the message that there was another way, another beginning and another future other than producing poppies for opium. “These are better than poppies!” the farmer says. Beside him his tall stand of young poplars sways with green grace. 

Indeed: the species’ fast growth in the spent earth is an excellent genesis crop for people desperate to start life anew.

The process is straightforward: GHNI supplies cuttings to the farmer, who plants and tends them with irrigation and springtime fertilizer. When he makes his harvest, the farmer repays GHNI in cuttings, paying it forward to help establish another new tree farmer.

Khalil is diligent in caring for his trees. They are healthy and beautiful. With his GHNI “loan” repaid, he hopes to soon be able to sell cuttings back to GHNI and to local markets. And he is grateful: “I am thankful to GHNI for creating an income opportunity for me.” 

Compassionate supporters have helped make possible amazing changes in some of Afghanistan’s most desperate, dangerous places. Please join them to help show farmers how they can say “No to Poppies, Yes to Poplars”  and cultivate a poppy-free homeland.

Will you help fulfill Aaquel’s wish by joining other generous donors in keeping the Valley of Ali’s poplar planting program thriving?