Joint UN-Government survey finds opium poppy cultivation at record levels in Afghanistan

13 Nov 2013

Joint UN-Government survey finds opium poppy cultivation at record levels in Afghanistan

KABUL - Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose to record levels this year with a 36 per cent increase compared to last year, according to a new survey launched today by the United Nations drug and crime agency and the Afghan Government.

Describing the findings as “sobering,” the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, said the situation poses a threat to the country’s health, stability and development.

“What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem, embedded in a long-term security, development and institution-building agenda,” Mr. Fedotov added in a news release from UNODC.

Afghanistan is the largest producer and cultivator of opium in the world. The poppy harvest time varies from mid-April to July depending on the location of provinces where cultivation takes place.

The area under poppy cultivation rose to 209,000 hectares, up from the previous year’s total of 154,000 hectares and higher than the peak of 193,000 hectares reached in 2007, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013, produced by UNODC and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter-Narcotics and released today at a news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The UNODC’s Regional Representative, Jean-Luc Lemahieu (right), told the news conference in Kabul that as the country goes through transition, “we need to make sure that the international and regional communities are helping Afghanistan” to embrace licit economy. Photo: Eric Kanalstein / UNAMA

With two northern Afghan provinces – Balkh and Faryab – losing their poppy-free status this year, only 15 out of the country’s 34 provinces are poppy-free, the report added.

Almost 90 per cent of the opium poppy cultivation in 2013 remained confined to nine provinces in the country’s south and west, which include the most insurgency-ridden provinces in the country.

The southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan’s principal poppy-producer since 2004 and responsible for nearly half of all cultivation, expanded the area under cultivation by 34 per cent, followed by Kandahar, which saw a 16 per cent rise.

The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 found that opium production reached around 5,500 tons, up by almost a half from 2012 but lower than the record high of 7,400 tons in 2007, “as the crop yield in the main cultivation areas of southern Afghanistan was affected by bad weather.”

The report’s launch comes a day after Afghan authorities destroyed more than 20 tons of illicit narcotics, precursor materials and alcohol, as part of government efforts to fight the trade in illicit drugs and other items.

An Afghan opium poppy field. Photo: UNAMA

According to UNODC, the number of human casualties during the authorities’ poppy eradication campaigns this year rose “significantly” with 143 people killed compared to 102 fatalities last year.

The report noted that although lower than in 2012, opium prices continued to lure farmers at around $145 per kilogram, a price much higher than the prices fetched during the high yield years of 2006-2008.

“Farmers may have driven up cultivation by trying to shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future, which could ensue from the withdrawal of international troops next year,” UNODC stated.

“Together with profits made by drug traffickers, the total value of the opium economy within Afghanistan was significantly higher, implying that the illicit economy will grow further while a slowdown of the legal economy is predicted in 2014,” UNODC added.

World Bank report released last month said that Afghanistan is facing a slowdown in growth this year mainly due to uncertainty surrounding the ongoing political and security transitions.
Afghan authorities burnt over 20 tons of illicit narcotics, precursor materials and alcohol – seized in raids in Kabul and its outskirts over the past ten months - in the capital, Kabul, on 12 November 2013. Photo: Eric Kanalstein / UNAMA

“Economic activity and private investment appear to be slowing considerably in 2013 as a result of increased uncertainty surrounding the political and security transition,” said the World Bank’s bi-annual Afghanistan Economic Update.

Along with Provincial Council elections, Afghanistan is slated to hold Presidential elections on 5 April next year. Those polls will mark Afghanistan’s first ever transfer of power from one elected president to another.

The political transition coincides with a security transition. In June this year, Afghan security forces, for the first time since 2001, started to assume full responsibility for the security of their country from their international allies. The international military forces will end their combat mission by the end of 2014.

“As we approach 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces from the country, Afghanistan, working with its many friends and allies in a spirit of shared responsibility, must make some very serious choices about the future it wants, and act accordingly,” said the UNODC’s Regional Representative, Jean-Luc Lemahieu.

Mr. Lemahieu said at today’s news conference that, as the country goes through transition, “we need to make sure that the international and regional communities are helping Afghanistan” to embrace licit economy.

Poppy eradication campaign in north-eastern Afghan province of Badakhshan. Photo: UNAMA

“We should not leave Afghanistan just by itself to do so,” he said, highlighting the fact that of the $68 billion profit made globally on the Afghan opiates, only less than 10 per cent remains in Afghanistan.

Mr. Lemahieu also cited factors such as corruption, lack of accountability and transparency for contributing to the rise in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.

Addressing the joint news conference, the Afghan Minister for Counter-Narcotics, Deen Mohammad Mobarez Rashidi, said that the focus of the government in the coming year would be on eradication of poppy.

He also highlighted the need to combat the problem of rising number of drug addictions in the country.

“I sent a group to collect the drug addicts from under the bridges in Kabul City and bring them to rehabilitation centres. Each week, we will bring 100 drug addicts to these centres,” said Mr. Rashidi.

Another government official addressing the news conference was the Deputy Minister of Counter Narcotics at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, who said that the Counter-Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA) should be equipped with modern equipment and its capacity should be enhanced to boost the government’s poppy eradication drive.

Read the survey

Related articles: 

- Over 20 tons of illicit narcotics, precursor materials and alcohol burnt near Kabul 

- Illicit drugs pose ‘critical challenge’ for Afghanistan, says UN-backed report 

- New World Bank study finds slowdown in Afghan economy 

- Afghanistan still lead global opium producer, prompting warnings from UN officials 

- UN report predicts rise in opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year