Afghan poppy cultivation spikes as prices soar: UN

By Salaam Times and AFP

Farmers cultivate poppies in Kandahar province April 3. [Javed Tanveer/AFP]

Farmers cultivate poppies in Kandahar province April 3. [Javed Tanveer/AFP]

Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation this year is up by a third, the United Nations (UN)'s drug agency said on Tuesday (November 1), in its first report on the issue since August 2021.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of poppies, the source of sap that is refined into heroin, and in recent years its production and exports have boomed.

The country has a near-monopoly on opium and heroin, accounting for 80 to 90% of global output, according to the UN.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said prices have soared after the April ban on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, but this year's harvest was largely exempted from the decree.

Meanwhile, "seizures of opiates around Afghanistan indicate that tracking of Afghan opium and heroin has not stopped", the report stated.

Cultivation in Afghanistan rose by 32% to 233,000 hectares (580,000 acres) over the previous year, meaning the 2022 crop came from the third largest area cultivated since monitoring began in 1994, said the UNODC.

In early November, Afghan farmers will decide whether to plant opium poppies for next year and how much to grow despite the ban, the agency said, adding they are "trapped in the illicit opiate economy".

Reverse course

The United States and NATO forces tried to curb poppy cultivation during their two decades of presence in Afghanistan by paying farmers to grow alternative crops such as wheat or saffron.

Yet, according to observers, their attempts were thwarted by militants who controlled the main poppy-growing regions and received hundreds of millions of dollars from the trade.

International donors spent billions of dollars on counter-narcotics drives in Afghanistan in a decade-long anti-drug campaign (ending in 2021), including programmes to encourage farmers to switch to other cash crops such as saffron.

In 2020, Akbar Rustami, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, told Salaam Times, "Many alternative livelihood projects have been implemented and are currently under way in the provinces where poppy is grown."

"Horticulture, building of fruit orchards based on the climatic conditions of each province, and growing of grains, saffron, aloe vera, medicinal plants and in general the promotion of halal cultivation [are some of the] alternative livelihood projects that have increased incomes, especially for farmers who used to grow poppies," he said at the time.

In July, a number of Kunduz farmers told Salaam Times they have chosen to grow watermelons instead of poppy seeds.

"Growing poppy does not benefit farmers, but it brings great profits to the drug smugglers. Planting watermelon will keep us away from drug traffickers, and it will help us make a legitimate profit," said one farmer.

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It is surprising that millions of dollars are spent in Afghanistan by various organizations for the destruction of poppy cultivation, but the cultivation of poppy has not decreased, and instead, cultivation of poppy crops is increasing day by day. I think the international market also purchases the heroine, because the consumption of heroin in Afghanistan is low. I criticize the international community. In Afghanistan, there is neither the police nor any security forces who would stand up to this mafia, and destroy the poppy crops, but you have the power. You have helicopters with various types of weapons, you have security departments with the most advanced technology of the time, while you cannot end the business in Europe and America, and then how can the poppy cultivation end in Afghanistan? Finally, I would say that, as long as the market for buying heroin not end in the world, poppy cultivation will not disappear in Afghanistan. With respects, Musawar