Opium cultivation returns to parts of Afghanistan

KABUL Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:54pm EDT

KABUL (Reuters) - Opium poppies are being grown this year in parts of Afghanistan where last year there were none, but overall cultivation of the drug will decrease slightly, the United Nations said in a report on Monday.

Four provinces in the east, west and north of Afghanistan that had been "poppy-free" have returned to cultivation, the U.N. drug agency UNODC said in its "Opium Winter Rapid Assessment" report, a forecast of trends for the year ahead.

But Helmand, a critical southern province where around half Afghanistan's poppy is grown, expects to see a slight decrease in the amount of farmland devoted to poppy this year, which will be enough to outweigh substantial increases elsewhere.

Opium prices in Afghanistan more than doubled last year after an unidentified blight cut production in half, the United Nations said, creating a "cash bonanza" for many farmers that encouraged cultivation.

Three quarters of the people surveyed cited the "high sales price of opium" as a driving force behind their decision to sow a crop this year. Between Feb 2010 and Feb 2011, dry opium prices tripled and fresh opium prices more than doubled.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the UNODC in Afghanistan, credited Helmand governor Gulab Mangal with ensuring the lure of hefty prices did not push cultivation back up there.

Mangal has set up a "food zone program" with a carrot and stick approach to stopping poppy cultivation -- eradication of some crops combined with support for farmers who chose to grow alternatives like wheat.

"The political will shown by both the minister of counter narcotics and the governor of Helmand in tackling poppy cultivation, are exemplary for the country," Lemahieu said in a statement released by UNODC.

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Afghanistan has long been the world's leading supplier of opium, and in recent years managed to produce thousands of tones more than the entire global demand for the drug.

Most of it is exported in a thriving world trade worth billions of dollars. Taliban-led militants are believed to derive $100-$400 million a year in revenues from production and trafficking of the drug, fuelling insecurity.

In the south this appears to be a two-way relationship with insecurity also fuelling poppy farming.

"In the south a direct correlation between insecurity, lack of agricultural aid and poppy cultivation could be established," the UNODC statement said.

"Some 90 percent of villages in the south with poor security are involved in poppy cultivation."

However in the north, the vast majority of poppy cultivating areas had better security.

The provinces where poppy is returning are eastern Kapisa, Ghor in the west and northern Baghlan and Faryab. Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan, and Herat which borders Iran, both major trafficking routes, are also expected to see a "strong increase" in cultivation.

Six other provinces, including the capital Kabul, are expected to see a moderate increase.

"This latest survey is a prediction, a 'weather forecast', and that the exact situation of the poppy cultivation will only be known later in the year, once the estimation from satellite images are completed," said Lemahieu.

"This is only an indicator and government policy can stimulate further decline," he added.

Aside from leading the world in opium output, Afghanistan has become the biggest producer of hashish, or cannabis resin, turning out between 1,500 and 3,500 tones a year.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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Comments (6)
McWayne wrote:
What a terribly misleading headline, as if Afghanistan wasn’t already the world’s leading grower of opium. The Taliban had all but eradicated it in 2000 and a few years after the US invaded yields had exploded 400+ % to the tune of half a billion/year (UN est.). What a joke.

Apr 18, 2011 4:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Htos1 wrote:
If you violently kill over someone drinking alcohol,but have no issue with cultivating and sellingopium,you might be a muslim.

Apr 18, 2011 4:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
timedonkey wrote:
Economic Stability in Afghanistan: A Practical Solution
Sustainable economic opportunity is essential in Afghanistan to build political stability. The largest current source of revenue for the Afghan farmer is the cultivation of poppies for heroin production. The illegal nature of poppy production requires that the farmers pay for the protection of various militias, war lords and power brokers to ‘allow’ them to grow poppies. The product is then sold to the same agents that are protecting them from government intervention. At the end of the day the farmer gets very little but has no other practical option.
The solution is to replace poppy production with industrial hemp production and have the new government guarantee the price, market and processing of the raw hemp. The farmer would end up with more revenue from the legal openly grown hemp than he currently does from growing poppies. This eliminates a problem crop and the illegal cash that it generates and replaces it with a sustainable, high value crop that can be used to create energy, fiber, oils, medicines and many other essential products. All of that with the added benefit of freeing millions of farmers from dependence on armed protection.
31 countries currently cultivate hemp for industrial and medical use to provide for a growing demand for this renewable resource including Canada, China and France.
The case for Hemp is this, the short growing period, hardiness and drought tolerance of hemp, combined with the already existing cultural knowledge and experience of the Afghan farmers make the substitutional process ‘Poppies for Hemp’ a plausible and possible agricultural strategy with predictable social, economic and political results, prosperity and peace.
It is time to rethink the value of Hemp for the same reason we suspended the Marijuana Tax Act during World War II, we needed hemp then to defend freedom and we could use it again to establish economic sustainability for some of the most vulnerable and freedom loving people on the earth.
If our foreign policy is to win the minds and hearts of an oppressed and distrustful people try starting with an honest opportunity.

Apr 18, 2011 5:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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