American Farmers Combat Opium in Afghanistan

When the U.S. sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year it also beefed up another front in the war against the Taliban. American farmers are trying to persuade their Afghan counterparts to give up growing poppy which makes the opium that finances insurgents. It's a hard sell.

CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy reports for horse and cotton farmers David and Donna Mull the chance to go from the green fields of Georgia to the arid lands of Afghanistan was a calling of sorts.

"I look at it as an opportunity not only to serve my country but to help some people that are in more need than I am in Afghanistan," says David Mull, a farmer.

"I think growing up on a farm, taking that experience over with me will help them. Help me, even," says Donna Mull.

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So far more than 60 American farmers have been sent by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Afghanistan as part of President Obama's civilian surge. Their mission: to wean Afghan farmers off opium poppy by showing them how to grow alternative crops like wheat, apples, rice and melons.

Michigan farmer Gary Tietz, part of the same USDA program, is already at work in southeastern Afghanistan in a job so dangerous he can't leave his base without heavy military protection. He says these experiences have changed him.

Daily he faces skeptical farmers and corrupt officials in an area where 90 percent of the world's opium is grown. Last year, according to U.S. government figures, the Taliban made about $100 million from opium, fueling the insurgency and its war against the West.

Once or twice a week Tietz visits villages to check on their livestock and on their fields to insure farmers aren't growing poppy.

But opium is worth $1,500 per acre, three times more than wheat. Tietz is trying to insure farmers don't give into the temptation of going back to poppy by teaching them important soil and water conservation techniques and how to get their new crops to market, with the hopes they'll make more money and be able to feed the village.

"I hope I represent an option, for farmers to choose not to do illegal actions. If I can work myself out of a job, that would be the highlight of my career," says Tietz.

"If what good we'll do over there helps anyone, anybody or any country, Afghanistan, our nation, then I'm all for it," says David Mull. "I feel like I'll make a difference there and I know Donna will, too."
  • Terry McCarthy

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