Opium production in Afghanistan shows increase; prices set to rise

11 October 2011 - Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached 131,000 hectares in 2011, 7 per cent higher than in 2010, owing to insecurity and high prices, according to the summary findings of the 2011 Afghan Opium Survey released by the country's Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC.

Afghanistan suffers from one of the highest rates of opiate consumption in the world, with a current prevalence rate of 2.65 per cent. In 2005, the prevalence rate of opiate use was 1.4 per cent. The country also faces an HIV epidemic among the country's injecting drug users.

"I commend the work of the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan. Both institutions have worked hard to improve their overall performance," said UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov. "I would like to encourage the Counter Narcotics Police to increase its seizure rates and the Ministry of Counter Narcotics to continue with its awareness and eradication programmes. The total amount of hectares eradicated increased by 65 per cent in 2011; however, the area eradicated represents only 3 per cent of the total cultivation area,"  he added.

Nevertheless, while there has been progress with respect to some aspects of countering narcotics, the medium-term indicators for opium production are not positive. According to the Survey, cultivation in 2011 has reached 131,000 hectares, compared with 123,000 hectares in the previous two years. The amount of opium produced has risen from 3,600 metric tons in 2010 to 5,800 metric tons in 2011.

Based on the 7 per cent upturn in cultivation indicated in the Survey, production levels may be heading in the direction of previous highs seen prior to 2010. The 2010 Survey pointed to a drastic decline over previous high production levels owing to an opium plant disease that had laid waste to poppy production.

To combat drug production and trafficking, UNODC has cooperated with partners to create interlocking initiatives linking the local, regional and global levels. The Paris Pact initiative creates an international forum for the discussion of drug trafficking and cross-border cooperation. The overall strategy also includes other successful forms of cooperation, such as the Triangular Initiative between Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan; the control of precursor chemicals under the flag of the Target Anti-Trafficking Regional Communication, Expertise and Training (TARCET) operation; and the creation of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre, an intelligence body embracing the five Central Asian countries, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation.

With high prices and increased production, opium has been a profitable business in Afghanistan in 2011. The farm-gate value of opium production alone is $1.4 billion, or 9 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. If the profits from manufacturing and trafficking heroin are added to this figure, opium comprises a significant part of the Afghan economy, providing considerable funding to insurgents and fueling corruption.

"The Afghan Opium Survey 2011 sends a strong message that we cannot afford to be lethargic in the face of this problem. A strong commitment from both national and international partners is needed," said Mr. Fedotov.