Afghanistan sees record opium crop

Afghanistan’s opium poppy cultivation rose by 36 per cent this year, a record high, according to the UN, while opium produc­tion was up almost a half on the previous year, at 5,500 tons.

The area under cultivation in 2013 was almost 210,000 hectares, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2013 Afghanistan opium survey, higher even than 2007’s peak of 193,000 hectares. Prices are also much higher than during the previous high-yield years of 2006-08, it says, with the ‘farm-gate value’ of opium production increasing by almost a third since last year.

One possible reason for the increased cultivation may be farmers trying to ‘shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future’ prior to next year’s withdrawal of international forces, says the document. Almost 90 per cent of cultivation takes place in nine southern and western provinces, including ‘the most insurgency-ridden provinces in the country’, with a significant slowdown in Afghanistan’s legal economy also predicted for next year.

The figures were ‘a warning, and an urgent call to action’, said UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov. ‘If the drug problem is not taken more seriously by aid, development and security actors, the virus of opium will further reduce the resistance of its host, already suffering from dangerously low immune levels due to fragmentation, conflict, patronage, corruption and impunity.’ 

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