Wheat30 March 2009 - At his first speech on the U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan last Friday, U.S. President Obama ‎unveiled a new direction for counter narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. This new approach has also ‎been indicated recently by his Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, aiming at a "significant ‎expansion of agricultural sector job creation programmes" in the fight against the Afghan drug ‎trade. ‎

UNODC predicts a decline in opium cultivation in 2009. However, this is to a great extent a ‎response to market forces, namely over-production and a sliding price for opium, rather than a ‎concerted turn by farmers to alternative livelihoods. Currently, 18 of 34 Afghan provinces are ‎opium poppy free and another seven are within reach. In order to sustain these gains beyond the ‎‎2009 harvest, targeted support towards Afghan farmers, their families and communities is ‎required. ‎

In partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, UN agencies and other stakeholders, UNODC ‎strongly supports a holistic approach of counter narcotics in Afghanistan, including agricultural ‎development. ‎

UNODC has assessed livelihood strategies in several Afghan provinces and identified the ‎immediate needs of farmers formerly engaged in or at risk of re-engaging in opium cultivation. ‎Examples have included Badakshan and Balkh. As a result of those assessments, these and other ‎provinces received funding for short-term and high impact assistance. In particular, labour-‎intensive activities were designed to provide paid employment opportunities to households before ‎comprehensive alternative livelihood programmes come into force. ‎