30 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.