Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is set to shrink this year, which could deal a major blow to the illicit drug industry, the top United Nations official to the war-torn country said today.
Since 2002, poppy production had increased every year until a small reduction last year, but a major reduction is now in reach, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, told journalists in Kabul.
At a press conference announcing the release of a new UN report, the Opium Rapid Assessment Survey, Mr. Eide said, “This year could be a turning point.”
“There could be a reduction in each and every province in the country, and the number of poppy-free provinces could grow beyond 20 [of the country's 34 provinces],” he added.
Similar to previous years, opium cultivation this year is expected to be virtually confined to the seven most unstable provinces in the south and south west of Afghanistan, where production has also been significantly reduced.
“Since this industry is so intimately linked to crime, corruption, and food insecurity, the effects could be wide-ranging, and very positive,” said Mr. Eide.
In the south and south-west, the drop-off in opium cultivation is explained by high wheat prices, low opium prices and a lack of water in the face of severe drought, according to the report produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In other parts of the country, the report attributes pressure from government authorities, food scarcity and effective pre-planting information campaigns for the decline in poppy cultivation.
Mr. Eide warned that “we could face a backlash instead of further progress” if the Government and donors do not take advantage of the window of opportunity presented by this year's decrease in production.
“Governors need additional resources to enable them to demonstrate that reduction in poppy production leads to development today. They have huge responsibilities, but few resources,” he said.
Highlighting the contribution made by the United States and the United Kingdom to the Good Performance Initiative, Mr. Eide urged other donors to support the effort.
The Special Representative called for other measures to break the country's dependency on the illegal crop, including an increase in direct agricultural assistance to farmers and involving local community and religious leaders in the fight against poppy production.
“The survey shows that where such assistance was given, the communities tend to stop poppy production.
As you are aware, agriculture has been a neglected sector. Both the government and donors must make sure that agriculture becomes a priority not only in rhetoric but in the allocation of resources.”