Solar power is revolutionizing life for opium farmers

There's a lot to unpack and think about from this BBC article about the impact of solar panels on the heroin industry.

The first report of an Afghan farmer using solar power came back in 2013.

The following year traders were stocking a few solar panels in Lashkar Gah, the Helmandi capital.

Since then growth has been exponential. The number of solar panels installed on farms has doubled every year.

By 2019 Mr Brittan's team had counted 67,000 solar arrays just in the Helmand valley.

In Lashkar Gah market, solar panels are now stacked in great piles three storeys high.


Buying diesel to power their ground water pumps used to be the farmers' biggest expense.


For an upfront payment of $5,000 they can buy an array of solar panels and an electric pump. Once it is installed, there are virtually no running costs.


It means they can grow far more poppy – as well as other crops.

Many farms now get two harvests a year – some even get three.

And that's not the only breakthrough. Using solar also means farmers can grow poppy in places where they never would have considered farming before.

The influx of solar panels and the ease of growing opium — as well as other crops — has apparently inspired a mass migration to the region as well. Over the last five years, the population of the desert region of Helmand in Afghanistan has grown by about half a million people, with nearly 50,000 new homes being built.

Unfortunately — as the article gets into — this growth is likely not sustainable. And what's good news for poppy farmers in Afghanistan isn't great news for people in America dealing with addiction — a situation which has already been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Like I said, there's a lot to unpack and a lot to think about. The article just barely skims the surface, but it's worth reading just to see the global impact of poverty, addiction, and sustainable energy.

What the heroin industry can teach us about solar power [Justin Rowlatt / BBC]

Image: U.S. Marines via ISAFmedia (Public Domain)