(WOMENSENEWS)–The ban on growing opium poppies has left impoverished Afghan farmers destitute and they are trading, selling and marrying off daughters to repay their debts and buy food, according to U.N. and Taliban officials.

The ban imposed by the fundamentalist Taliban movement that controls most of the country has meant there was no harvest of the poppies, a major source of credit and income for farmers in the war-torn country. Coupled with a devastating drought, the ban has resulted in desperate choices, according to The Guardian in London.

"I talked to this uncle who gave away his 7-year-old niece whose parents had died–for three bags of 330 pounds of wheat," said Hans-Christian Poulsen of the U.N. office coordinating humanitarian relief to Afghanistan.

In deeply conservative and male-dominated Afghanistan, girls usually are married off at puberty. The bridegroom’s family pays a dowry–an important additional income. Increasingly, pre-pubescent girls are being given to men in their late 20s and early 30s.

"The age is going down and they are going much further away to live with their new husbands," he said.

"I just talked to a farmer who said: ‘I gave my small daughter to the one I got a loan from,’ " said Amir Mohammed Haggani, the Taliban’s chief anti-narcotics officer in Nangarhar province, formerly the second-largest opium producing region in the country. Farmers generally borrow against next year’s poppy crop.

The U.N. has reported that Afghanistan has successfully banned opium cultivation from about half the country, in an effort to improve its image and political standing. Experts say the cultivation has moved further into Central Asia, to other conservative republics.