Record high Afghan opium expected: UN
The report showed boom in poppy cultivation in the south, especially in regions where US-led troops have been withdrawn or in the process of departing.
The report suggested little success of whatever international efforts had been made to wean local farmers off the crop. “As we have predicted, opium will go up for a third year in a row,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, which prepared the report along with the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry. “We are looking at a record high cultivation.”
The Afghanistan Opium Winter Risk Assessment 2013 issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was conducted in two phases. One from December to January for central, eastern, southern and western Afghanistan, where opium was sown in the fall of 2012, and another in February and March that covered northern and northeastern Afghanistan, where opium is usually planted in the spring.
The exact figure for 2013 is still unclear, but the UN said that indications are it will surpass the 154,000 hectares planted in 2012, and the 131,000 in 2011.
The report attributed the increase to the high sales price of opium, which has made cultivation attractive to farmers. Although prices were lower than the three previous years they “were still at a higher level than between 2005 and 2009, making opium cultivation very attractive to farmers.” Fear of eradication was the main reason cited by those farmers who decided not to cultivate the crop.
Prices started spiking in 2010, when blight killed much of the crop. They went from about $60 to $85 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) to $300 in 2011. Although prices this year range from id="mce_marker"60 to $200, they are still very high.
“This price is not explainable,” Lemahieu said. “Demand in the region and globally is even. There is no demand increase to explain this.”
The report found that poppy cultivation trends indicate that of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, an increase was predicted in 12, no major change in seven and a decrease in one. A total of 14 were expected to remain poppy free.
Two of the provinces, southern Kandahar and Helmand, expect “high” and “very high” cultivation levels. They are the two provinces where the US-led coalition is withdrawing troops after focusing forces during a three year surge that ended last year. They were also two of the provinces where great emphasis was placed on finding alternative crops for farmers.
“The southern region is expected to remain the largest opium cultivating region in Afghanistan in 2013. Poppy cultivation in Helmand and Kandahar, the main opium cultivating provinces in the country, is expected to increase and Helmand is expected to retain its status as the largest opium cultivating province in the country,” the report said.
Illicit cultivation and production of opium poppy was thought to make up about 15 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product, which in 2012 stood at about $20 billion.
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