July 25, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Will Everything Come Up Roses in War-torn Afghanistan?

Need some good news for a change? Some Afghan farmers are finding better profits growing roses than growing opium poppies.

Damask roses are endemic to Afghanistan, reports Phys.org, but the country is better known for an export that fuels violence and death: opium.

Opium is big business in Afghanistan, where Nangarhar is the sixth biggest poppy-producing province.

Poppy cultivation hit a new record last year, with opium production soaring 87 percent to an estimated 9,000 tonnes, official figures show.

Sales of opium poppies create many well-known evil effects downstream. Drug trafficking, though illegal in the country, engenders gang violence and international conflicts, and fuels much of the economic ties of violent countries to other violent countries. The illegal traffic in opioids, derived from poppies, has created a crisis in western countries through a tangled web of supply, addiction, and dependence. This “export” from Afghan farmers—many of whom are just trying to make a living for their poor families—fuels war and death on a massive scale.

But what if the poor farmers could be convinced to grow something good instead? Something beautiful, useful, and in high demand? What if they could make a better living growing roses?

The farmers who are trying it, according to the article, are finding these benefits in switching:

  • The roses used by the farmers are native to the country.
  • Roses are easier to grow than poppies. They don’t require as much water, fertilizer or care.
  • Roses provide a variety of useful products: rose water, essential oils, perfumes and bouquets.
  • Rose farming is more profitable. Other countries have customers willing to pay high prices for the products.
  • Growing roses is perfectly legal and beneficial, unlike opium poppies.
  • “Rose trees are also more durable, lasting 30 to 50 years, compared with poppies, which must be planted every season.”

The task of picking the rose petals gives other Afghans worthy employment in harvesting. It takes a lot of petals to produce a small amount of oil, and they have to be distilled quickly. Europeans love the stuff. One company supplies European vanity:

Its rose oil now supplies several European companies, including German organic cosmetics brand Dr. Hauschka—whose products are priced well out of reach of ordinary Afghans.

“They make very expensive creams with our roses,” says Mohmand [owner of Afghan Roses Ltd.].

The motto is “Make perfume, not war” for those trying out the switch. Farmers are saying they are “better than poppies” and are making them more money than they used to grow in the illegal opium trade. One farmer named Mohammed din Sapai is very happy with his first harvest of flowers.

Sapai is one of more than 800 farmers in the province bordering Pakistan benefiting from the “Roses for Nangarhar” project, a joint Afghan-German initiative set up in 2007 to encourage poppy growers to switch to a legal, money-making flower.

“They provided us with the plants, the tools and even paid us for the first year when we had no harvest,” Sapai, 50, explains….

He makes enough money to support his family, and insists roses have fewer costs and take less effort. After the rose season, which ends in May, he switches to growing vegetables.

The idea could spread to African countries as well.

Orzala exports its rose oil to Canadian company The 7 Virtues, which also sources essential oils from Haiti, the Middle East and Rwanda under the slogan “Make perfume, not war”.

A peace initiative like this could pay international dividends and maybe even prevent another war, in addition to giving growers a beneficial way to care for their families.

God made roses and poppies, so what are we to make of this story? Genesis says that thorns arose after the Fall when sin entered the world, as part of the curse. And yet “He did not leave Himself without witness,” Paul told the men of Lystra, “in that He good, providing you with fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14). Because God is just, Earth became a world of dangers and death after the Fall (requiring, ultimately, Christ’s sacrifice), but because God is good, earth also retained much of its incredible beauty and provision, too. Poppies are beautiful flowers that many westerners cultivate in their gardens. They don’t have to be grown for substance abuse. Roses are famous for bouquets and beneficial products, but they could also scratch and injure people if someone were to use the branches as whips.

So often, cultures get stuck in a rut. The problem in Afghanistan is not with poor farmers who need to support their families, but with drug traffickers who take advantage of discoveries that substances in the crop, when abused, create addiction in humans. The drug traffickers plot their evil, knowing that addicts will provide a secure market. Many of the Afghan farmers probably do not intend to hurt people. They’re just trying to survive. If farmers have always grown opium poppies as a habit, it may be the only thing they know. All it takes is a little convincing that they could live better growing legal products like roses, and word-of-mouth success could overturn the opium trade. Wouldn’t that be a blessing for the whole world!

Use this story to think about our own environments. What useful products are within 100 feet of your home? Most of us probably have no idea of the wealth surrounding us. If we only knew about the potential in nearby natural resources, we might be rich. That’s why we like reporting stories on biomimetics and on research with applications to improve our lives. Remember all the beneficial uses of Moringa, the drumstick tree? (11 April 2017). Talk about acres of diamonds! Some of the poorest countries in the world may not even know the riches all around them. They don’t need foreign aid; they need to learn how to pick up and trade the diamonds at their feet. The people of Haiti could be rich if it weren’t for the corrupt leaders who rob them. So often, the problem of poverty comes from evil leaders, not from the lack of resources (Venezuela and Nicaragua being current examples). Even in this Afghanistan story, rose farmers have to take great care to avoid the Taliban’s bullets.

God provides for the birds, but He doesn’t drop the food into the nest. He gave humans minds to discover and learn. Someone had to do scientific research to figure out that rose petals had oils that could be beneficial. If scientists would ditch the useless work on life in outer space and Darwinian evolution, and apply their minds to good for their fellow man, the world would prosper and be much more peaceful. Science cannot operate without morals. Science is not an end in itself. God intended us to use knowledge for good: to honor God and love our neighbors.

Another virtue of this story is that roses, as plants, constitute a renewable resource that will not harm the environment or ruin the ecology. Even though some of the products satisfy vanity over need, this is different from the fur trade that nearly wiped out beaver in the 1840s to satisfy the vanity of European men wishing to appear stylish in beaver hats. And who knows? Perhaps demand will motivate further discovery for rose products, including medicines. (Roses are edible, and “rose hips” are known for their nutritious benefits.) We applaud the effort of this company to teach Afghan farmers how to live better by switching from the drug trade to the rose trade. We don’t know the motivations or beliefs of “The 7 Virtues” company or any of its affiliates, but without necessarily taking any instruction from the Bible, they illustrate how humans should use knowledge for good. This is a practical way of showing the image of God in man, and fulfilling Christ’s admonition, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Let those who follow Christ lead the way.


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