Cannabis production rises in Afghanistan: UN report
KABUL (PAN): A UN report released in Kabul on Tuesday said the area of farmland planted with cannabis fell by nearly a fifth last year, but a bumper crop meant that actual production rose compared with 2011.
The decrease was due a fierce eradication campaign in central Uruzgan province, which borders Kandahar and Helmand, in order to prevent financing the Taliban insurgents. Over 1,000 hectares of the crop was planted in Uruzgan in 2011 and 100 hectares were sown last year.
"According to reports from the field, the reduction was caused by a strictly enforced ban by provincial authorities, which was imposed because cannabis fields seemed to have been used by insurgent groups as hiding places," the UN Cannabis Survey Report said.
Planting in most other areas remained largely steady, with just over half of commercial production concentrated in the south of the country. The report does not include "kitchen garden" plots of the drug grown for personal use, but these produce relatively small amounts.
Overall Afghanistan produced 1,400 tonnes of commercial cannabis resin in 2012, worth around $65 million, the report estimated. A slightly smaller crop in 2011, when prices were higher, brought in nearly $100 million.
Cannabis production in Afghanistan is dwarfed by opium farming, which last year took up more than 10 times as much farmland and produced a crop worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Afghanistan produces around 90% of the world's opium supply.
However many poppy farmers in the south plant a spring opium crop and, when it has been harvested, turn to cannabis for the summer. "It seems that cannabis and opium are more complementary crops... than substitutes for each other," the report said.
Government efforts to stamp out poppy farming may even push up production of cannabis, the report warned. Last year the UN said Afghanistan's importance as a source of resin for world markets might be growing as more farmers switched to the crop.
"With increasing pressure on poppy cultivation through eradication and other measures, the possibility of the commercial production of cannabis gradually playing a much bigger role in the illicit economy of Afghanistan is not beyond the realms of imagination," the report said.
The regional representative for the UN office on drugs and crime (UNODC), Jean-Luc Lemahieu, said that farmers balance "family needs, food security, access to markets...[and] risk" when deciding what to plant each year, and explained that no one is simply "an opium farmer" "a cannabis farmer" or a "wheat farmer".
A joint venture of the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crimes (UNODC), the survey covered 16 provinces
"A case to the point is that the licit agricultural production this year is at a high level and this is not different for the cannabis yields,” Deputy Counternarcotics Minister Mohammad Azhar said.
Despite the drop in acreage, he said, more cannabis powder (garda) could be extracted from the fields compared to the previous year (136 kg/ha in 2012, compared to 112 kg/ha for 2011).
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