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Afghan Officials Shocked at Scope of Opium Farming (2006)

Opium production in Afghanistan increased by 17 percent in 2007, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on August 27.

"No other country in the world has ever produced narcotics on such a deadly scale," said the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, an annual assessment prepared by UNODC and the government of Afghanistan.

Afghan farmers have cultivated poppies on 193,000 hectares which will produce 8,200 metric tons of opium in 2007, the survey indicated. Afghanistan alone accounts for 93 percent of the heroin processed in the world.

The UN has warned that Afghanistan's opium production has reached a "frighteningly new level" which threatens the war-battered country's painful struggle for stability, reconstruction and development.

Over three million Afghans are said to be involved in the narcotics trade (cultivation, processing and smuggling) and the UN believes the illicit opium income fuels insurgency and other criminal activities in Afghanistan.

Opium production in Afghanistan in 2007 "may kill, directly or not" over 100,000 people worldwide, UNODC reported.

Most narcotics deaths are likely to happen in China, India and southeast Asia where Afghan opium exports have increasingly found new markets. Europe is another potential buyer of drugs produced in landlocked Afghanistan. Over 90 percent of the heroin sold on black markets in the UK originates from Afghanistan, according to the UN.

On 26 June UNODC said there was a significant reduction in drug addiction and abuse everywhere in the world, except in Afghanistan where more people are falling prey to narcotics.

Over one million Afghans are addicted to narcotics -- 3.7 percent of Afghanistan's 24.5 million population, according to the Afghan government.

Most Afghans involved in the opium trade have opted for this unlawful business in order to alleviate their poverty, the 2007 opium survey found.

What is driving farmers to defy the government's ban and cultivate poppy is a price for opium that easily outstrips that of any other agricultural products.

"Most farmers (98 percent) said they would be ready to stop opium poppy cultivation should access to alternative livelihoods be provided," the UNODC report said.

Afghan farmers will earn about $1 billion (farm-gate price) from their opium harvest in 2007, representing 13 percent of the country's $7.5 billion total gross domestic product (GDP), the UN survey said.

The opium survey noted the vast difference in income of farmers who cultivate opium and those who grow wheat. Gross income for wheat per hectare of land was $546 while for opium it was $5,200.

However, the Afghan government has been able to take some comfort from the UNODC report: In 2006 out of 34 Afghan provinces six were assessed as poppy-free, while in 2007, 13 provinces, mainly in central and northern Afghanistan, were assessed as opium-free.

"We should increase the number of poppy-free provinces every year and gradually get Afghanistan rid of this vicious phenomenon," Zalmai Afzali, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Counter Narcotics, told IRIN on 27 August.

Afghan officials, however, warn that unless the international donor community provides generous funding for counter-narcotics efforts, including funding for alternative livelihoods and institution building, opium production would remain a disturbing challenge.

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC, has also called for more funding to be used to curb Afghanistan's growing opium production.

"Expenditure [on counter narcotics] is abysmally low because of ministerial competition, corruption and bureaucratic inertia -- nationally and internationally," Costa said.

The UNODC has also called on the government of Afghanistan to intensify its opium eradication activities and target "rich landlords especially in the south of the country."

© IRIN 2007

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Albion Monitor   August 27, 2007   (

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