Afghan opium production has decreased by almost 50 per cent this year, the United Nations said in a new report released today, while cautioning that rising prices on the global market may induce farmers to cultivate more of the lucrative crop.
Total opium production is estimated at 3,600 metric tons, down 48 per cent from 2009, according to the 2010 Afghan Opium Survey, produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The agency says the sharp drop is mainly due to plant infection that took a heavy toll on the major poppy-growing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. As a result, yield fell 48 per cent to 29.2 kilogrammes per hectare, from 56.1 kilogrammes per hectare compared with the previous year.
“This is good news but there is no room for false optimism; the market may again become lucrative for poppy-crop growers so we have to monitor the situation closely,” said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC.
The report also notes that much of the cultivation continued to take place in the southern and western provinces of the country.
“These regions are dominated by insurgency and organized crime networks. This underscores the link between opium poppy cultivation and insecurity in Afghanistan, a trend we have observed since 2007,” said Mr. Fedotov.
At the same time, all 20 poppy-free provinces remained so in 2010 and four other provinces – Kunar, Laghman, Zabul and Herat – were almost poppy-free.
According to UNODC, surveys carried out last year showed that farmers were willing to consider abandoning opium cultivation due to the low price it fetched.
But while prices were on the decline from 2005 to 2009, they are again rising, with the gross income for farmers per hectare having increased by 36 per cent to $4,900.
The problem is made worse by the low price of wheat, which is an important alternative crop. “We are concerned that in combination with the high price of opium, a low wheat price may also drive farmers back to opium cultivation,” said Mr. Fedotov.
The Executive Director called for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the Afghan opium threat, including by strengthening the rule of law and security, spurring development efforts, boosting regional cooperation to contain the illicit drug trade, and curbing demand.
“Unless we reduce the demand for opium and heroin, our interventions against supply will not be effective,” he stated. “As long as demand drives this market, there will always be another farmer to replace one we convince to stop cultivating, and another trafficker to replace one we catch.”