Opium and Insecurity: How to Break the Link in Afghanistan
Launch of the Summary Report of the 2010 Afghanistan Opium Survey
Vienna, 30 September 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen of the press,
Thank you for coming today. I am pleased to welcome you to the Vienna International Centre. I hope to see you here often in the coming months.
Today UNODC is releasing the Summary Report of the 2010 Afghanistan Opium Survey, both here in Vienna and in Kabul.
The good news is that opium production has fallen dramatically this year. The quantity of the world's most dangerous drug that is entering the market from this year's poppy harvest is roughly half of what was produced last year. However, the cause of the decline in opium production is a plant disease that affected the major opium poppy-growing regions.
The Summary Report underscores the linkage between opium poppy cultivation and insecurity in Afghanistan. I will say more about that linkage in a few minutes. But first let me present you with the survey's key findings.
1. Cultivation was stable
In 2010, Afghanistan's total opium poppy cultivation estimate was unchanged since 2009 at 123,000 hectares.
The vast majority of cultivation occurred in nine provinces in the Southern and Western regions, where security and stability are the weakest. Virtually all Afghan opium production (96 percent) takes places in these same provinces.
All 20 provinces that were poppy-free in 2009 remained poppy-free in 2010. Four other provinces were very close to being poppy-free.
2. Production is down sharply
This year opium production was halved in comparison to 2009. Total 2010 opium production is estimated at 3,600 metric tons, a 48 percent decrease from 2009.
This sharp decline is largely due to a disease affecting opium fields in the major growing provinces, particularly Hilmand and Kandahar.
As a result of the disease, yield dropped to 29.2 kilograms per hectare, which is a 48 percent decline from the 2009 yield of 56.1 kilograms per hectare.
(I'll come back to the issue of the disease shortly.)
3. Prices are up
In 2010, the average farm-gate price of dry opium at harvest time (weighted by production) was US $169 per kilogram, a 164 percent increase from 2009. This dramatic increase is a market response to the drastic reduction in opium production.
As a result of this huge price jump, farm-gate income of opium-growing farmers is also up significantly, even though overall production is down.
While many farmers in the disease-affected areas lost most of their expected income from opium this year, farmers whose crop was not affected by the disease, or only marginally affected, had a large increase in their profits.
4. About the disease
Plant diseases are a normal occurrence all over the world. This also the case in Afghanistan, where opium poppy diseases are a normal occurrence. Afghan farmers have reported varying degrees of damage to their crops in practically all years and regions since systematic yield surveys started. Opium poppies are also vulnerable to frost and drought conditions and to various pests, such as aphids and worms. In Afghanistan, the use of agrochemicals to fight plant diseases or pests is still quite rare.
The disease affecting this year's crop struck at a late stage of plant development, often after the plants had flowered or just before the opium was ready to be harvested. The diseased plants exhibited symptoms of wilt, with their leaves yellowing, drooping and finally drying up completely. This is indicative of rot at the stem-root interface and/or upper-root rot. These symptoms are consistent with those observed previously in the region for fungal infestations.
The premature drying of the plants greatly reduced the amount of opium that could be harvested.
5. Future trends
We will have to monitor price trends for several months to gain a true indication of how the opium market will be affected by the drop in production this year. If prices continue to rise, this will indicate a supply shortage in the market. If prices flatten or decline, this will indicate that stockpiles accumulated from the last few years' over-production are beginning to enter the market.
Either way, we are already concerned that the current high price may play a role in encouraging farmers to cultivate opium. In our survey of farmers, a high sale price is by far the greatest incentive for cultivating opium.
Moreover, the price of wheat-one of Afghanistan's principal crop alternatives to opium-is now quite low. We are concerned that in combination with the high price of opium, a low wheat price may also drive farmers back to opium cultivation.
6. Opium and insecurity
As I mentioned, most of Afghanistan's opium cultivation occurs in the Southern and Western regions.
These are the most insecure regions, where security conditions are classified as high or extreme risk by the United Nations Department of Safety and Security. Most of the districts in these regions are not accessible to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations. These regions are dominated by insurgency and organized criminal networks. This mirrors the sharp polarization of the security situation in Afghanistan between the lawless South and the relatively stable North.
Because the lack of security in the Southern and Western regions compromises the rule of law from the legitimate Government, counter-narcotic interventions are limited and these regions consistently show very high opium cultivation levels.
By contrast, in areas where there is a government presence and the rule of law prevails, only a few hundred hectares of opium cultivation remain. With some additional effort, we could achieve more poppy-free provinces next year. Kunar and Laghman provinces in the Eastern region and Hirat in the Western region have under 400 hectares of opium cultivation and could achieve poppy-free status next year.
However, the objective of increasing the number of poppy-free provinces is now under threat because of the high market price of opium.
7. How can opium poppy cultivation be stopped?
A comprehensive strategy is needed. To the extent that we can extend the rule of law, we can increase poppy-free provinces. Thus we must continue to encourage the Afghan government to take measures that increase security.
Corruption must also be addressed. Corruption and drug trafficking feed upon each other and undermine any development effort in Afghanistan. We must continue to encourage the Afghan government to crack down on corruption.
We also need a broader strategy to support farmers throughout Afghanistan by providing them with access to markets and a secure environment. Stability and security, combined with sustainable alternative development opportunities, will give farmers the chance to make a living without resorting to opium poppy cultivation.
But we must not forget the consumer side of opium's deadly equation. Unless we reduce the demand for opium and heroin, which is spread across South West Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe, our interventions against supply will be one-sided and futile. As long as demand drives this market, there will always be another farmer to replace one we convince to stop cultivating, and another trafficker to replace one we catch.
Crop eradication can also play a role, but it is only one of several supply-side tools. Moreover, crop eradication is a national responsibility. UNODC recommends that crop eradication should never be done in isolation; it should always be done in combination with programmes to support farmers to shift to the cultivation of licit crops.
8. Afghanistan must not be singled out
In confronting the threat posed by Afghan opium, we must not forget that this is a global problem, one that affects both health and security in many countries around the world. Thus our responses should not be limited to Afghanistan itself, or even to the major countries affected by the opium trade.
All of Afghanistan's neighbours, as well as the larger region itself, are affected by trafficking in Afghan opium and by insecurity in Afghanistan.
But so too are the consuming nations across Eurasia and elsewhere in the world. Their citizens are suffering and dying from using drugs that originated in the poppy fields of Afghanistan. In many countries, injecting drug users are also contributing to the rapid spread of HIV.
For these reasons, UNODC seeks to work with all countries that have an interest in Afghanistan, not just the big players.
9. The role of UNODC
Although UNODC has a relatively small presence in Afghanistan compared to other actors, we have decades of experience there, and a great deal of credibility on the ground as a source of expertise. Our surveys monitoring and benchmarking opium, cannabis, addiction and corruption are the gold standards of policy discussions.
We are ready to serve as an honest broker and play a larger role in policy coordination and implementation among the international partners engaged in Afghanistan. We already play a regional role through the Rainbow Strategy, the Triangular Initiative, Operation Tarcet (targeting precursors) and the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC).
10. What we need to do now
It is imperative that we keep up a steady flow of information about the Afghan opium market through crop surveys and price monitoring. This data provides the benchmarks and indicators needed to formulate and implement effective policies.
We also need to focus on spreading the rule of law and security throughout Afghanistan, and halting corruption. UNODC has a role here, but so too does the United Nations more broadly. It is in the interest of the entire international community to address the problem of Afghan opium and insecurity.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention. I will now be glad to answer your questions.