The production of opium poppies in Afghanistan has witnessed a staggering decline since the imposition of a drug ban by the de facto authorities last year, according to the newly released Afghanistan Opium Survey 2023 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The data reveals that opium supply has plummeted by an estimated 95 percent, dropping from 6,200 tons in 2022 to 333 tons in 2023. This decline corresponds to a sharp reduction in the area under opium cultivation, shrinking from 233,000 hectares to just 10,800 hectares over the same period.
The near-total contraction of the opiate economy is expected to have far-reaching consequences, emphasizing the urgent need for alternative development support in rural communities to pave the way for an opium-free future for the Afghan people.
UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly stated, “This presents a real opportunity to build towards long-term results against the illicit opium market and the damage it causes both locally and globally. At the same time, there are important consequences and risks that need to be addressed for an outcome that is ultimately positive and sustainable, especially for the people of Afghanistan.”
HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES AND ECONOMIC IMPACT
The survey highlights the immediate humanitarian consequences of this sharp reduction for many vulnerable rural communities that relied on income from cultivating opium. Farmers‘ income from selling opium harvested in 2023 to traders plummeted by more than 92 percent, decreasing from an estimated $1,360 million for the 2022 harvest to $110 million in 2023.
UNODC’s Ghada Waly emphasized the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to address the immediate needs of Afghanistan’s people, absorb the shock of lost income, and save lives. It is clear that strong investment in sustainable livelihoods will be required in the coming months to provide farmers with alternatives to opium cultivation.
CHALLENGES IN TREATING OPIATE USE DISORDERS
UNODC also stressed the limited availability of evidence-based treatment options for opiate use disorders within Afghanistan. It called for the integration of evidence-based treatment into public health measures and assistance to prevent individuals with opiate use disorders from turning to potentially even more harmful substances.
BEYOND AFGHANISTAN: IMPLICATIONS AND WARNING
Beyond Afghanistan, the reduction in heroin production may lead to reduced trafficking and use, but it also raises the possibility of the emergence of harmful alternatives, such as fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, as cautioned by UNODC. Data on seizures indicates that traders are selling off their opium inventories from past record harvests to mitigate the shortfall in 2023, while heroin processing has decreased. However, trafficking in other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, has surged in the region.