A Poppy Plant Diesel Engine?

February 2011


A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly described two former Army veterans who devised a novel idea to defeat the insurgency: turning poppy plants into fuel. Article can be accessed here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/putting-poppies-in-the-gas-tank/8379/

This idea could revolutionize the Afghan economy.

According to the article, shipping one gallon of gasoline to a forward operating post in Afghanistan costs up to $400. Plus, every supply convoy we sent out is one more supply convoy that the Taliban could possibly attack. Recently the Taliban have targeted convoys in Pakistan, causing U.S. officials to route supplies through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, buying local bio-diesel costs $10 per gallon and supports the local population.

Using poppy plants as fuel is a much better strategy than trying to destroy every poppy plant. Eradicating poppy plants only hurts the overall war effort. When Afghan farmers watch U.S. aircraft spray and destroy their crops, we aren’t exactly winning over “hearts and minds.” Afghan farmers grow poppy, not to under-mind U.S. strategy, but rather because poppy is the regional cash crop. While local farmers could grow wheat and grapes, these plants perish much quicker than poppy plants perish. Given the uncertainties of a war-torn country, having extra time to get your crop to market could be the difference between feeding your family and going hungry.

Furthermore, the U.S. eradicating poppy fields incentivizes other Afghans to grow poppy plants. This may seem counter-intuitive, but every poppy plant we destroy increases the price of poppy. The higher price for poppy will cause more farmers to switch to growing poppy plants.

However, implementing this plan will anger local drug lords and cause massive regulation problems. Just because some poppy plants are being used as biofuels doesn’t mean the drug market has evaporated. The U.S. will have a tough time regulating this poppy seed-biodiesel market. Even so, part of winning this war is restoring the Afghan economy- might as well work with what you’ve already got.

Posted by jjames in Army, Foreign Policy

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  • SwitchBlade

    Big difference between $400 and $10! A farmer usually has the lowest profit margin of any “individual” in the supply train. It seems to me there is ample room to make the local “fuel” plant pay more than the farmer will get from the exporter. While this may cause the price of the fuel to be more – as I stated – there is a big difference between $400 and $10!

  • @swithcblade..you are right 🙂 total $390’s of difference there 🙂