UNODC chief visits northern Afghan province of Badakhshan

Photo: UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein: Mr. Fedotov visits an opium poppy field in Badakshan31 May 2012 - UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov visited a poppy field in Badakhshan province, north-eastern Afghanistan and saw firsthand, the eradication by the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan and the hardships faced by poppy crop growers.

"This is my third visit to Afghanistan, but the first visit to one of the Afghan provinces", said Mr. Fedotov. In Badakshan, the UNODC Executive Director also visited the Aga Khan Foundation alternative livelihoods project in Baharak district.

"Several years ago, over 70 per cent of the land in our village was under opium cultivation", said Ustad Achina, a former poppy grower who is today a successful orchard and fruit tree nursery owner in Baharak district.

The Aga Khan Foundation supported Mr. Achina by importing new varieties of fruits (apples, cherries, pears, apricots etc), which he cultivated successfully in his orchard. Mr. Achina now earns between $ 4,000 and $5,000 every year from the nursery.

Earlier this week, the Executive Director launched a new UNODC Country Programme for Afghanistan (2012-2014). Primarily aimed at the provinces of Afghanistan, the Programme will support alternative livelihoods and health care projects to benefit communities. The focus will be on creating alternatives for households dependent on illicit crop cultivation, drug demand reduction, and drug-related HIV prevention and treatment.

"Some of the problems in Badakshan can be addressed though our programmes, such as the Regional Programme and the Country Programme, which is the largest donor funded UNODC programme globally", said Mr. Fedotov. The Executive Director said he hoped the Country Programme would help improve the lives of people and open up more opportunities leading to prosperity.

Photo: UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein: A farmer at the opium poppy field in BadakshanThe UNODC Afghanistan Opium Winter Risk Assessment 2012 showed that Badakhshan is likely to see an increase in opium cultivation this year, similar to 2011 when opium cultivation in Badakhshan increased by 55 per cent from the previous year.

Mr. Fedotov noted with concern the increase in opium poppy cultivation in Badakhshan. He added that since opium poppy cultivation has been concentrated in the southern part of Afghanistan in the last ten years, increasing cultivation in other areas, such as in Badakhshan and in Nangarhar provinces needed to be monitored carefully. Two north-eastern provinces, Faryab and Baghan, which lost their poppy-free status last year, were likely to remain so in 2012. While Northern Afghanistan is mostly poppy-free, it is a key trafficking route for Afghan opiates.

Mr. Fedotov added that gains made in the past could be under threat, and the international community needed to step up its support to farmers to wean them off opium poppy cultivation and eventually reverse the increase in opium cultivation.

"We must step up our awareness campaigns and provision of agricultural assistance in the form of seed, fertilizers and irrigation facilities to encourage opium poppy farmers to pursue alternative sources of livelihoods," he said.

Mr. Fedotov crossed the bridge on the Panj River, which divides Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and headed towards Dushanbe to attend a ministerial meeting on regional counter narcotics cooperation between Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.