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29 October 2003

Area Under Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan Has Increased By Eight Per Cent, UN Says

VIENNA, 29 October  (UN Information Service) -- The Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2003, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for the first time jointly with the Afghanistan Government, confirms the country’s place as the leading producer of opium, responsible for about three-quarters of the world’s output.

Afghanistan became the world’s largest source of illicit opium under the Taliban rule in the late 1990s. A short-lived Taliban ban on opium cultivation in 2001 brought the production to a record low of 185 metric tonnes that year, compared to 3,276 metric tonnes in 2000. It also caused a 10-times price increase, from an average of US$30 in 2000 to US$300 in 2001 per kilo, with a peak at close to $700, prompting massive resumption of cultivation in 2002.

This year, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by eight per cent, from 74,000 hectares in 2002 to 80,000 now. Opium production has increased by six per cent, from 3,400 to 3,600 tonnes.

“The country is clearly at a crossroads: either major surgical drug-control measures are taken now, or the drug cancer in Afghanistan will keep spreading and metastasise into corruption, violence and terrorism,” said Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC while announcing the survey findings in a press briefing in Moscow hosted by Mr. Igor Ivanov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation.

Mr. Costa praised the Afghan administration’s counter-narcotic efforts. He saluted President Karzai’s ban on opium cultivation and trafficking; the establishment of the national Counter-Narcotic Directorate; the adoption of the ten-year National Drug Control Strategy, as well as the new drug control law.

“Traffickers make huge sums of money; it is imperative to confront them with the penalty associated with breaking the law,” Mr. Costa said. “Terrorists also take a cut from the opium trade; the drug power game poses a threat to peace and security within Afghanistan and beyond its borders.”

The number of provinces with opium cultivation has increased steadily from 18 in 1999 to a staggering 28 provinces in 2003 (out of a total of 32). 

The survey also shows a decline in opium cultivation in southern provinces. A large decline was recorded in the provinces of Hilmand (-49 per cent) and Kandahar (-23 per cent), caused by planting restraint and government eradication measures.  Because of these shifts, Nangharar has now become the top opium producing province. In the North East, close to the border with Tajikistan, Badhakshan recorded yet another major increase (+55 per cent).

Notably, opium poppy in 2003 was cultivated for the first time in 31 districts.

The prices of fresh opium have declined by 19 per cent, from US$350 per kilo last year to US$283 per kilo in 2003. As a consequence, the value of the opium harvest declined from US$1.2 billion in 2002 to US$1.02 billion. This represents an equivalent to 23 per cent of the country’s US$4.4 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These estimates do not include the profits subsequently made by traffickers who collect the fresh opium from farms and local bazaars, processing it into heroin and then transferring the lot to border areas for export. In a recent UNODC study (The Opium Economy in Afghanistan, published in spring 2003) the 2002 income accruing to traffickers in Afghanistan was estimated at US$1.3 billion. Therefore, the total income from opium-related activities, farming plus trafficking in 2003 may have amounted to about half of the country’s GDP.

“The Afghanistan opium economy is fuelled by low risk and high profit,” Mr. Costa said. “This may give birth to narco-cartels and other forms of organized crime, that undermine Karzai’s effort to promote democracy and rule of law.”

The domestic income distribution is also affected. The 2003 harvest represents, on an average, an annual income of about US$3,900 per opium-growing family.  This average masks regional disparities, ranging from US$1,700 in the North to US$6,800 in the South.  The potential opium income per capita for the 1.7 million people involved in opium cultivation ranges from US$259 in the North to more than US$1,000 in the South. In comparison, on the basis of a population estimated at 24 million and a GDP estimated at US$4.4 billion, Afghanistan had a GDP per capita of about US$184 in 2002. 


Opium poppy cultivation

Opium production

Opium farmers


Survey Methodology

Data collected on cultivation, production, prices and number of farmers.

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