Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, had an interesting choice of word to describe opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rising 36 per cent in 2013 to a record high. “Sobering” he called it which it certainly won’t be when the end product reaches markets around the world. What cannot be quibbled with is Mr Fedotov’s description of the situation as posing a threat to health, stability and development in Afghanistan and beyond.
The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013released today in Kabul showed the area under cultivation rose to 209,000 ha from the previous year’s total of 154,000 ha, higher than the peak of 193,000 hectares reached in 2007.
Although lower than in 2012, opium prices continued to lure farmers at around $145 per kg, much higher than the prices fetched during the high yield years of 2006-2008. Farmers may have driven up cultivation by trying to shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future resulting from the withdrawal of international troops next year. Worth around US$ 950 million, or 4 per cent of national GDP in 2013, the farm-gate value of opium production increased by almost a third. 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 continue to grow whereas a slowdown of the legal economy is predicted in 2014.
“As we approach 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces from the country, the results of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 should be taken for what they are – a warning, and an urgent call to action,” said the UNODC chief.
The link between insecurity and opium cultivation observed in the country since 2007 was still evident in 2013; almost 90 per cent of opium poppy cultivation in 2013 remained confined to nine provinces in the southern and western regions, which include the most insurgency-ridden provinces in the country. Hilmand, 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.