Cultivation stable, production falls and prices rise
UNODC Executive Director warns that higher prices may drive farmers to cultivate more opium
Vienna/Kabul, 30 September 2010 (UNODC) - While opium poppy cultivation remained at 2009 levels, opium production halved in 2010, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2010 Afghan Opium Survey released today.
"This is good news but there is no room for false optimism; the market may again become lucrative for poppy-crop growers so we have to monitor the situation closely," said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC.
The bulk of cultivation continued to take place in the restive southern and western provinces of the country, according to the summary findings.
"These regions are dominated by insurgency and organized crime networks. This underscores the link between opium poppy cultivation and insecurity in Afghanistan, a trend we have observed since 2007," said Mr. Fedotov.
Opium cultivation remained stable at 123,000 hectares (ha), down from a peak of 193,000 ha in 2007, with ninety eight per cent of cultivation taking place in nine provinces in the south and west of the country. Hilmand and Kandahar took the lion's share with Hilmand alone accounting for 53 per cent of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
All 20 poppy-free provinces remained so in 2010 and four other provinces (Kunar, Laghman, Zabul and Hirat) were almost poppy-free.
Total 2010 opium production is estimated at 3,600 metric tons (mt), down 48 per cent from 2009. The decrease was largely due to a plant infection hitting the major poppy-crop growing provinces of Hilmand and Kandahar particularly hard.
As a result of the damage, yield fell 48 per cent to 29.2 kilograms per hectare, from 56.1 kilograms per hectare compared with the previous year.
About 87 per cent of total opium production took place in the south (6,026 mt) and 12 per cent in the west (825 mt) in 2009.
Plant diseases are a normal occurrence all over the world. In Afghanistan, which produces 92 per cent of the world's opium, they can affect the poppy crop. The current strain attacks the roots of the plant, climbing up the stem and causing the opium capsule to wither away. These signs are similar to those observed in previous such outbreaks in the region.
Last year, surveys indicated that farmers were willing to consider abandoning opium cultivation due to the low price it fetched. After a steady decline from 2005 to 2009, prices are rising again, effectively reversing a steady downward trend. In 2010, the average farm-gate price of dry opium at harvest time (weighted by production) was US$ 169 per kg - a 164 per cent increase over 2009, when the price was US$ 64 per kg.
In the short run, the decline in opium production has pushed prices up. Despite the drop in overall production, the farm-gate income of opium farmers rose markedly. Now that opium is commanding high prices again, the gross income for farmers per hectare has increased by 36 per cent to US$ 4,900.
"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", said Mr. Fedotov. "If prices continue to rise, this will indicate a supply shortage in the market and if prices flatten or decline, this will indicate that stockpiles accumulated from the last few years' over-production are beginning to enter the market".
Compounding the problem was the low price of wheat, an important alternative crop. "We are concerned that in combination with the high price of opium, a low wheat price may also drive farmers back to opium cultivation" said Mr. Fedotov.
Eradication was at its lowest level since the monitoring system started in 2005. The Afghan Minister of Counter-Narcotics and UNODC verified that governor-led programmes had eradicated a total of 2,316 ha. Although Hilmand saw the highest number of hectares eradicated (1,602 ha), that figure was dwarfed by the scale of opium cultivation in that province (65,045 ha).
Once again, the human toll was high. Although the number of attacks against governor-led eradication teams decreased this year, they suffered 28 fatalities, against 21 witnessed in 2009.
Shared international responsibility
Mr. Fedotov called for a comprehensive strategy to rein in the Afghan opium threat, including by strengthening the rule of law and security, and spurring development efforts. "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.
More robust regional cooperation was essential to contain the illicit drugs trade, said Mr. Fedotov. "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", he stressed.
The first priority was to curb demand. "We must not forget the consumer side of opium's deadly equation. Unless we reduce the demand for opium and heroin, our interventions against supply will not be effective. 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."
"We 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", said Mr. Fedotov.
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Afghan Opium Survey 2010 - Report (PDF, 3.2 MB)