News / Asia

UN: Afghan Opium Cultivation at Record High

FILE - Afghan farmers harvest raw opium on a poppy field in the village of Bawri, outside of Lashkar Gah, Helmand, southern Afghanistan.
FILE - Afghan farmers harvest raw opium on a poppy field in the village of Bawri, outside of Lashkar Gah, Helmand, southern Afghanistan.
VOA News
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has risen to a record high, possibly spurred on by farmers seeking to insure their incomes against uncertain conditions after the NATO troop pullout concludes in 2014.
 
In the report, released on Wednesday, the U.N. agency said the area of Afghanistan being cultivated for poppy production has risen to 209,000 hectares, higher than the previous peak of 193,000, reached in 2007.
 
It said this year's poppy harvest resulted in 5,500 metric tons of opium, a yield nearly 50 percent higher than last year. It also said farmers may be guarding against an uncertain future by increasing production of opium now.
 
Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the agency, called the rise in production "a warning" and "an urgent call to action" as Afghanistan begins to assume more control of its security. He said if the problem is not taken more seriously by international agencies, what he called "the virus of opium" could further reduce Afghanistan's stability.

Cultivation of opium in Afghanistan provincesCultivation of opium in Afghanistan provinces
x
Cultivation of opium in Afghanistan provinces
Cultivation of opium in Afghanistan provinces
Observers are also concerned that profits will go to warlords jockeying for power ahead of a presidential election next year. The expansion will come as an embarrassment to Afghanistan's aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency.
 
“The short-term prognosis is not positive,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan.
 
“The illicit economy is establishing itself, and seems to be taking over in importance from the licit economy.”
 
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, 1992 - 2013Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, 1992 - 2013
x
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, 1992 - 2013
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, 1992 - 2013
Afghanistan is the world's top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced. Last year, it accounted for 75 percent of global supply and Lemahieu had previously said this year it might supply 90 percent.
 
The increase in the crop was caused by various factors including greater insecurity as foreign troops pull back in preparation for withdrawing next year, a high opium price last year and a growing lack of Afghan political will to tackle the problem.
 
That will is particularly weak as an April presidential election approaches, Lemahieu said. President Hamid Karzai cannot stand again, leaving the field open to a range of rivals, some linked to power-brokers who have profited from poppy in the past.
 
​Some of the profits derived from the crop will be funnelled off by the Taliban to fuel their insurgency. Western officials privately accuse senior members of the Afghan state of also profiting.
 
The new figures are part of an annual assessment of opium production by the UNODC and the Ministry for Counter-Narcotics.
 
The report revealed that two northern provinces, Balkh and Faryab, were again growing poppy after being deemed poppy-free last year. Eradication fell by almost a quarter.
 
Stark Reminder
 
A gradual decrease in foreign funding as allies grow weary of helping war-racked Afghanistan has led to some members of the Afghan elites turning to poppy profits.
 
“When it comes to the illicit economy there is very little difference between the insurgents and the people on the other side,” Lemahieu said.
 
Afghanistan has a serious drug addiction problem but most of its output is smuggled abroad, particularly to Europe.
 
The British Foreign Office said the report was a “stark reminder” of the challenges facing Afghanistan in tackling the drugs trade.
 
“Lessons learned from other drug producing countries show that this will be a generational struggle against a complex global problem which needs a comprehensive approach,” a spokesman for the foreign office said.
 
Afghanistan's allies have tried to build infrastructure, develop markets and provide farmers with alternative crops, but insecurity and graft have largely stymied rural development while poppy eradication has been patchy.
 
A farmer in the southern province of Helmand, where almost half of Afghanistan's opium is grown and where British and U.S. forces have faced some of the fiercest fighting of the 12-year war, said he had no choice but to grow opium.
 
“We are lost,” said the farmer, Mullah Baran, who supports a family of twenty. “I do not know what is legal and what is illegal in Afghanistan. If I grow poppy, that is illegal, but if I pay a bribe, that is legal.”
 
Another farmer in Helmand said he had grown wheat last year on the encouragement of the provincial government but did not make enough to feed his family of 12, so switched back to poppy.
 
The farmer, Marjan, said he expected to harvest around 22 pounds of opium, which should earn him between $700 and $900, based on UNODC's price estimate.
                                                                               
“This year about 80 percent of farmers I know have grown poppy,” Marjan said.
 
Some information in this report was contributed by Reuters.

You May Like

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Crowdfunding Helps Save Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

Smithsonian turns to Kickstarter to raise more than $700,000 to help preserve the spacesuit worn by the first man to walk on the moon More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs