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Afghan farmers could grow new anti-malarial drug instead of opium poppies: report

December 5, 2006 (The Canadian Press): Afghan farmers could grow a new anti-malaria crop as part of an effort to wean them away from the illegal drug trade, an international think tank said Wednesday.

The Senlis Council has already proposed that the Afghan opium crop be diverted into production of medical morphine for use in poor countries, a recommendation made by others in the past.

Now, however, it says conditions in Afghanistan are also good for growing a shrub called artemisinia which can be used to produce artemisinin, a medicine used to treat drug-resistant strains of malaria.

This would give Afghan farmers a cash-crop alternative to opium and help poorer countries.

"There is a worldwide shortage in developing countries of both morphine and these next-generation malaria medicines," it said in a news release.

"Using the Poppy for Medicine project model to also cultivate artemisinia as a cash crop would greatly benefit Afghan farming communities by increasing the incomes of those farmers not contracted to cultivate poppy for medicine in any one year," said Norine MacDonald, president of the council.

"Not only would the extraction of artemisinin help diversify the economy of Afghanistan's rural communities and reinforce a new pharmaceutical industry for Afghanistan, it would go a long way towards addressing the 500 million cases of clinical malaria each year around the world."

The council is an international policy group which studies security, development and counter-narcotics issues. It has offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels.