Opium cultivation in Afghanistan fell by 22 percent this year and prices for the drug tumbled causing farmers to switch to other crops, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Despite the decrease, Afghanistan is still the world’s leading producer of opium, which is processed into highly addictive heroin and smuggled abroad.
Here are some facts and figures about Afghanistan’s opium crop.
* In 2009, Afghanistan cultivated 123,000 hectares of opium compared to 157,000 hectares in 2008, a 22 percent decrease. This year’s crop still accounts for around 90 percent of the world’s supply. Cultivation peaked in 2007 at 193,000 hectares.
* In 2009, 6,900 tons of opium were produced compared to 7,700 tons in 2008, a 10 percent drop. To put it into perspective, the 800 ton decline this year is roughly double the amount produced in the “Golden Triangle,” the major opium-producing region of Southeast Asia.
Production did not see as dramatic a decrease as cultivation this year due to record high yields -- an average of 56 kg per hectare, a 15 percent increase on 2008 -- caused by good weather and farmers concentrating their crops in fertile and irrigated lowlands. Afghanistan’s opium yields are on average more than five times higher per hectare than in the Golden Triangle.
* The number of poppy free provinces -- those that cultivate less than 100 hectares -- rose from 18 provinces in 2008 to 20 provinces this year, out of a total 34 provinces in the country. Ninety-nine percent of cultivation in 2009 was concentrated in seven provinces in the south and west, all insecure areas where the Taliban insurgency is strongest.
* Helmand, in Afghanistan’s restive south, cultivates by far the most opium in the country. Despite a 33 percent decrease this year, 57 percent of the country’s opium was still grown in Helmand, 69,833 hectares compared to 103,590 in 2008. Helmand cultivated three times more opium than Kandahar, the second biggest poppy growing province.
* The amount of opium Afghanistan produces every year far exceeds world demand for illicit opiates derived from the drug -- around 5,000 tons. High levels of production over the past few years have caused prices for opium to fall dramatically.
The average wholesale price for dry opium in 2009 was $64 per kg compared to $95 last year, a 33 percent drop.
* Lower prices mean opium farmers’ gross income also decreased this year to $3,562 per hectare, a 24 percent decrease on 2008. In 2003, a farmer would earn on average $12,700 per hectare.
* The total wholesale value of Afghanistan’s opium crop this year is $438 million compared to $730 million in 2008, a massive 40 percent drop. Afghanistan’s opium industry now accounts for 4 percent of the country’s GDP compared to 7 percent in 2008, 13 percent in 2007 and a record 27 percent in 2002.
* This year an estimated 1.6 million people in Afghanistan were involved in opium cultivation, down from 2.4 million in 2008, a 27 percent drop.
* The United Nations considers efforts to eradicate the crop to be a failure. Only 5,351 hectares of opium were eradicated in 2009 and 5,480 hectares last year, less than 4 percent of the amount planted. A total of 99 people involved in eradication were killed in the past two years.
* Although around 90 percent of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan, only 2 percent is seized within the country. In comparison, more than 20 percent of the world’s supply of cocaine is seized in Colombia, the drug’s main producer.
Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009 Summary Findings (www.unodc.org)
(Compiled by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Nick Macfie)
For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here