Afghanistan, the world’s biggest producer of opium, is now also the global leader when it comes to the production of hashish, according to a new United Nations survey released today.
The first-ever Afghanistan Cannabis Survey, produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), stated that, while a precise estimate is not technically possible, an estimated 10,000 to 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown in Afghanistan every year.
The survey found that there is large-scale cannabis cultivation in exactly half of the country’s 34 provinces. Afghanistan’s cannabis crop yields an estimated 145 kilograms per hectare of hashish, the resin produced from cannabis, as compared to around 40 kilograms per hectare in Morocco.
“While other countries have even larger cannabis cultivation, the astonishing yield of the Afghan cannabis crop makes Afghanistan the world’s biggest producer of hashish, estimated at between 1,500 and 3,500 tons a year,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.
Cannabis not only reaps a high return – $3,900 in gross income per hectare as compared to $3,600 from opium – but it is also cheap to harvest and process. It is three times cheaper to cultivate a hectare of cannabis in Afghanistan than a hectare of opium.
However, opium is still favoured over cannabis among Afghan farmers, according to the survey, which noted that the latter has a short shelf-life and is a crop grown during the summer months, when less water is available for irrigation.
Mr. Costa noted that in the past five years, cannabis cultivation has shifted away from the country’s north to the south. “Like opium, cannabis cultivation is now concentrated in regions of instability, namely the south of the country,” he stated.
Also like opium, cannabis trading centres are situated throughout the country, UNODC pointed out.
While some cannabis is consumed domestically as hashish (or “charas,” as it is known), the main trade flows seem to follow opium trafficking routes, particularly around hubs in the provinces of Balkh, Uruzgan and Kandahar.
Mr. Costa stressed that the remedy for Afghanistan’s drug problem remains improving security and development in the areas of the country that produce drugs. By doing so, “we can knock out the world’s biggest supplies of both hash and heroin,” he said.