Afghanistan’s opium output may drop slightly in 2008: UN
by Bronwen Roberts
Tue Feb 5, 11:40 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan’s vast and highly lucrative opium production may drop slightly this year from a record spike, but world-high cannabis output is likely to rise, a United Nations survey released Wednesday said.
Opium from Afghanistan, which makes up more than 90 percent of world supply, will likely earn Taliban insurgents tens of millions of dollars over the year, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) chief Antonio Maria Costa said.
The UN survey, based on field visits and interviews, found that around 192,000 hectares (474,000 acres) of opium, used to make heroin, has been planted in Afghanistan — mostly in the insurgency-hit south of the country.
This was a decrease of about 1,000 hectares from last year, a record high for Afghanistan.
Final output would depend on the success of government eradication drives and agricultural yields, said a statement released with the survey. Output was 8,200 tons last year, up 34 percent on 2006.
“Opium cultivation in Afghanistan may have peaked, but the 2008 amount will still be shockingly high,” Costa said in the statement.
“Europe, Russia and the countries along the Afghan heroin routes should brace themselves again for major health and security consequences,” he warned.
Costa added that more than three-quarters of Afghanistan’s opium was grown in areas outside Kabul’s control and it was a huge source of revenue for the Taliban, which has been carrying out a deadly insurgency since 2001.
A 10 percent “tax” on farmers would generate close to 100 million dollars for insurgents this year and extra money would reach the militants by running heroin labs and through drug exports, Costa said.
Sometimes this tax goes to mullahs and corrupt local security commanders.
“Afghanistan is becoming a divided country, with clear drugs and insurgency battle lines,” Costa said.
The sharpest increase in opium production, which is harvested from around April, was expected in the arid southwestern province of Nimroz, which borders Iran and Pakistan and is a major trafficking area.
“They are turning Nimroz into a blooming desert,” said Christina Oguz, the UNODC’s representative in Afghanistan in a separate statement.
Drugs traffickers were able to give farmers more support than the government, she said.
“They provide easy advance credit against future opium harvests. They provide seeds and fertilisers. They bore wells so that poppy can be cultivated in arid areas.”
Oguz said strong government leadership in counter-narcotics efforts was the key to cutting back the trade, valued at about four billion dollars a year — equal to more than half of the legal gross domestic product.
The latest UN survey found that of 469 villages polled, 18 percent reported growing cannabis, compared with 13 percent last year, and output was likely to grow on last year’s 70,000 hectares.
In “addition to supplying 90 percent of world opium, Afghanistan has become the world’s biggest supplier of cannabis,” Costa said.
The country’s internationally backed efforts to cut back the opium — which feeds heroin into Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia — include persuading farmers to grow other crops, and eradication of opium poppy fields.
But they are dogged by corruption, with several officials said to be skimming money off the trade, and few of the key traffickers have been caught.
Costa said problems included a lack of “honest and functioning” counter-narcotics and police ministries, and governors.
These were exacerbated by the absence of an anti-corruption authority with “integrity and credible powers” and an inefficient judicial system, he said.
The Afghanistan Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey was released Wednesday in Tokyo by Costa, who was joined by General Khodaidad, Afghanistan’s acting Minister of Counter Narcotics.