Afghan Opium Crop Headed for Record High
Afghan Opium Crop Headed for Record High

Afghan farmers are facing another bountiful harvest. But instead of celebrating, officials at the United Nations and around the world are increasingly worried about Afghanistan's opium trade.

The sun is shining in Afghanistan's Helmand province, and farmers are busy harvesting their opium poppies. This year, for the third year in a row, they are looking at a bigger opium crop.

Farmer Faiz Mohammed makes no apologies.

"We are the poorest people in this area. If we don't cultivate poppies we can't feed ourselves and our family. We have tried to cultivate corn and wheat, but that is too cheap, doesn't bring a good income, and poppy crops bring good money," said Mohammed.

2013 expected opium cultivation levels in Afghanis
2013 expected opium cultivation levels in Afghanistan, by province.

The riches promised by opium stand in contrast to the rest of the country's struggling economy.

Farmer Haji Abdullah said it is potential profit - and not pressure from the Taliban - that is feeding the opium harvest.

"The Taliban have no influence here. The farmers themselves grow poppies because, compared to the price of wheat, there is a huge difference," said Abdullah. "For instance, we sell four kilograms of corn for 100 Afghanis [$1.89 USD] but poppies bring 2000-5000 Afghanis [$37.80-$94.57 USD]. This is for the benefit of the farmers, we see there is a huge difference in the price."

A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime warns that Afghanistan could account for as much as 90 percent of the world's supply of heroin.

The U.N.'s Jean-Luc Lemahieu calls it a sign of failure. "We have seen enormous inflow in this country over the last decades, and with regards to the drug control situation, we still see increases of the opium cultivation, so we cannot say in any way, based on the facts, that we have succeeded. We have failed," he said.

And Lemahieu warns that farmers are not the only ones becoming dependent on opium.

"It is one of the biggest diseases this country is facing at this moment - one million addicts. It is an enormous health problem. Who will pay for that? he said.

That is a question far from the thoughts of the opium farmers in Helmand province, who say they have no other way to feed their families.