Friday, June 29, 2012

A Crop Pervading Time and Space

SJ: When we first arrived in Castiglion Fiorentino the poppies had exploded in their vibrant reds between the cracks in the paving stones, the rows between grape vines in the vineyards, and the wheat fields, and even in the watercolor paintings of the street vendors. Now the blooming poppies have faded in Italy, but their worldwide effect is not fading. The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, a different species than the one  that grow in Italy (Papaver rhoeas), is causing issues worldwide. Knowledge of these opium poppies has existed for centuries. The Ancient Greeks were already using opium extracted from these poppies medicinally, to treat asthma and stomach illness. Much later, in the 1830s the Opium Wars broke out between the British Empire and China as the Chinese tried to keep the British from selling opium in China and weakening the country by creating a population addicted to a drug. Today these poppies still have a great value and effect on many countries. The United States obtains 80% of its medicinal opium from India and Turkey from which morphine is extracted and often used as a pain reliever for hospital patients. In Afghanistan however, the cultivation of opium poppies for drug trafficking supports 1.7 million rural people. During drought and instability, Afghani farmers fell into great debt and began to cultivate Papaver somniferum as a source of cash, especially after the Soviet withdrawal. For many, opium poppies are not the crop of choice, but few other profitable alternatives exist. As a result, many poppy growers are now addicted to their own crop and babies are born already addicted to opium because their mothers smoked the drug while they were pregnant. These rural farmers and their crop of opium poppies have now become a concern of the United States, because the Taliban controls the illegal drug trafficking and obtains revenue from the sales. The United States has even bombed the poppy crop in Afghanistan to try to cut the Taliban drug ties. Poppies have been tied to many economic and political issues for centuries. These flowers have influenced the Italian countryside and art, modern day and ancient medicine, and have tied countries together in the sales of illegal drugs. Overall, the poppy has had a truly international effect since ancient times.

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