From 'Plan' to 'Action' - UNODC spearheads UN Joint Assessment Mission to Herat and Ghor

Assessment Saffron Field14 December 2009 - The recent trend of falling opium prices has resulted in a fall in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. This windfall needs to be consolidated to ensure that a rebound does not occur. The UK and the US have joined forces in the southern and eastern provinces respectively, which is why UNODC has chosen to focus on the western provinces where cultivation is low yet trafficking continues unabated. UNODC has become involved in hands-on activities that will improve the quality-of-life and livelihoods of rural communities. To ensure the greatest impact, UNODC coordinates its programme in partnership with other UN agencies. Eight UN agencies committed to participation in the Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) in mid-2009, and it was agreed to start pilot projects in four initial districts of Herat and Ghor provinces (Ghoryan, Kohsan, Kushk Rabat-i-Sangi in Herat, and Chagcharan in Ghor).

In post-opium agricultural areas, the assessment revealed the need for rehabilitation and extension of agricultural production, which are critical to livelihoods development. This can be achieved in several ways: expansion of the areas available for cultivation, on- and off-farm job creation to diversify income and finally, improving health and hygiene. In July 2009, district administrations themselves established the links, explaining to UN partner organisations that farmers had ceased cultivating opium and therefore required and deserved assistance in, for example, agricultural development and teacher training. They also highlighted the negative consequences of being on a key narco-trafficking route, the high prevalence of drug abuse, and the increase in petty crime to fund such addictions.

UNODC recognises the inherent complications and constraints when replacing opium with wheat as a cash crop. Crucially, therefore, the international community has to make use of its comparative advantage in offsetting income losses that may occur by abandoning poppy, while encouraging a virtuous circle of engagement by communities in broad-based development. The multi-mandated UN team has recently finalized its recommendations on activities needed, moving towards a significant level of alternative livelihood interventions that will have a positive impact on rural households. Once this pilot scheme proves to be a successful model, lessons learned will be applied to other provinces and districts, with a geographic focus on the 'belt' surrounding the main opium producing provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. UNODC's impact of counter-narcotics interventions will be more immediate and effective if there is an element of conditionality attached to alternative livelihoods and socio-economic development in rural areas, to include trafficking and processing, not solely cultivation. These are highly relevant transnational issues for the western provinces due to borders with Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. Beneficiaries need to recognise the nexus between development and counter-narcotics not solely with regard to eradication and pre-planting campaigns, but additionally how counter-narcotics is interlinked with improvements in agro-business, healthcare, and education services.

During 2009, from the commencement of JAM throughout the consequent phases, Kohsan and Ghoryan districts received a set of complementary interventions from UNAMA, WHO, and UNODC that address community needs within the areas of health and education, as well as participatory monitoring and evaluation training for district officials.  Sand removal from an agricultural canal will be completed by Nau Ruz (the Persian New Year, late March), with parallel work on land stabilization commencing early in 2010. The expansion of AL project implementation plan for the remaining districts is in progress and will be finalised by UNODC in consultation with its partners by the first quarter of 2010.