Afghanistan Sees Much Profit in Opium Crop

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.

Opium crop in Afghanistan in 2022 is the most profitable in years with cultivation up by nearly a third amid soaring prices and despite multiple humanitarian and economic crises facing the country and it’s Taliban rulers, said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Tuesday.

The report Opium cultivation in Afghanistan – latest findings and emerging threats, is the first report on the illicit opium trade since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021. The authorities had banned all cultivation of opium poppy and all narcotics under strict new laws in April 2022.OPIUM CULTIVATION

OPIUM CULTIVATION INCREASED

The report points out that cultivation of opium in Afghanistan increased by 32 per cent over the previous year to 2,33,000 hectares, which makes 2022 crop the third largest area under opium cultivation since monitoring began.

It also said that farmer’s income from opium sales tripled from 425 million dollar in 2021 to 1.4 billion dollar in 2022. “The sum still represents only a fraction of the income made from production and trafficking within the country. Increasingly larger sums are further accrued along the illicit drug supply chain outside the country,” the report said.

The UNODC also said that this year’s harvest was exempted from the decree. Farmers in Afghanistan must now decide on planting opium poppy for next year amid continued uncertainty about how the Taliban will enforce the ban, it said.

Sowing of the main 2023 opium crop must be done by early November this year.

OPIUM; LIMBO

“Afghan farmers are trapped in the illicit opiate economy, while seizure events around Afghanistan suggest that opiate trafficking continues unabated,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

“The international community must work to address the acute needs of the Afghan people, and to step up responses to stop the criminal groups trafficking heroin and harming people in countries around the world.”

OPIUM; HUB IN HELMAND

In the report, the UNODC said that opium cultivation continued to be concentrated in southwestern parts of the country (accounting for 73%). Western provinces (accounting for 14%) followed. “In some regions opium poppy cultivation occupied a significant proportion of overall agricultural land. For example, in Hilmand province one-fifth of arable land was dedicated to opium poppy, and in some districts the proportion was even higher – taking away fields from vitally important food crops, including wheat,” the report mentioned.

However, the UNODC statistics said that opium yields declined from an average of 38.5kg/ ha in 2021 to an estimated 26.7 kg/ha in 2022 following drought conditions in early 2022.

OPIUM; PRICE INCREASE

After the Taliban ban in April 2021, prices increased dramatically with per-kilogram prices nearly doubling from 116 dollars in March 2022 to 203 dollars.

Though the high price tripled the income of farmers, the increase in income did not necessarily translate into purchasing power as inflation soared during the same period. The price of food increased on average by 35 percent, with the poor spending 60-70 percent of their income just to eat. Recent reports indicate that overall inflation increased from 4.2 percent in August 2021 to 17.9 percent in June 2022

OPIUM; TRAFFICKERS PLOUGH ON

Seizure events collected by UNODC´s Drugs Monitoring Platform suggest that opiate trafficking from Afghanistan has been ongoing without interruption since August 2021. Afghan opiates supply some 80 per cent of all opiate users in the world.

Further, the UNODC in its report points out that an effectively enforced opium ban, such as in 2001, could lead to a substantive reduction in opium production in the country.

However, it said that the impact of such a ban could be manifold. “Within the country it would exacerbate the already dire situation of the rural population by drastically decreasing the already limited economic opportunities. It would thus strongly increase the need for humanitarian aid to mitigate the effects of the income lost on the short run. Those who lost their income from opium production may turn towards other illicit activities, such as methamphetamine manufacture, unless they are equally effectively banned,” it said.  

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