VIENNA, 31 March The first-ever UNODC Afghanistan Cannabis Survey produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, launched today, shows that the world's biggest producer of opium is also a major producer of cannabis. A precise point estimate proved not to be technically possible. However, using converging methodologies, the Survey estimates that 10,000 to 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown in Afghanistan every year. "While other countries have even larger cannabis cultivation, the astonishing yield of the Afghan cannabis crop (145kg/ha of hashish, the resin produced from cannabis, as compared to around 40 kg/ha in Morocco) makes Afghanistan the world's biggest producer of hashish, estimated at between 1,500 and 3,500 tons a year," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.
The Survey is based on data from 1,634 villages in 20 provinces. It shows that there is large-scale cannabis cultivation in exactly half (17 out of 34) of Afghanistan's provinces.
Cannabis reaps a high return. The gross income per hectare of cannabis (US$ 3,900) is higher than from opium (US$ 3,600). Cannabis is also cheap to harvest and process: in Afghanistan it is three times cheaper to cultivate a hectare of cannabis than a hectare of opium. As a result, the net income of a hectare of cannabis is US$ 3,341 compared to US$2,005 per hectare of opium.
The Survey shows that opium is still favoured over cannabis among Afghan farmers: unlike opium, cannabis has a short shelf-life, and is a summer crop (when less water is available for irrigation). In the aggregate, the value of cannabis resin production in Afghanistan was estimated at between US$39-94 million, about 10-20 per cent of the farm-gate value of opium production (which was US $438 million in 2009).
"In the past five years, cannabis cultivation has shifted away from the north to the south of Afghanistan. Like opium, cannabis cultivation is now concentrated in regions of instability, namely the south of the country," said Mr. Costa. Illustrative of this trend is the steep increase in cannabis prices in Balkh province - once notorious for its Mazari (Balki) cannabis - due to a governor-led crackdown on drug cultivation since 2007.
Like opium, cannabis trading centres are situated throughout the country. While some cannabis is consumed domestically (as hashish or "charas" as it is known), the main trade flows seem to follow opium trafficking routes, particularly around hubs in the provinces of Balkh, Uruzgan and Kandahar. Indeed, in 2008 a massive seizure of cannabis - 245,000 kg - was made in Kandahar close to the border with Pakistan. "All drugs in Afghanistan, whether opium or cannabis, are taxed by those who control the territory, providing an additional source of revenue for insurgents," said the head of UNODC.
"Afghanistan's drug problem is even more complex than just the opium trade," said Mr. Costa. "Yet the remedy remains the same. By improving security and development in Afghanistan's drug-producing regions, we can knock out the world's biggest supplies of both hash and heroin," said Mr. Costa.
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