Poppy cultivation at all-time high: US watchdog
In a report released today, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said more than 500,000 acres were cultivated with the illicit poppy crop in 2013.
Representing a 36 percent jump from the previous year and a historic record, most of the cultivation happened in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces -- the focus of the 33,000-strong American troop surge four years ago.
Afghanistan remains the world’s top producer of opium, supplying more than three-quarters of the world. The illicit drug commerce is a major source of funding for the Taliban, who spend the windfall from the opium on buy ammunition and weapons.
Poppy production had quadrupled in eastern Nangarhar province, which was declared poppy-free in 2008 and previously seen a model for eradication efforts, the SIGAR report said, adding as of June 2014, the US had had spent nearly $7.6 billion to combat poppy cultivation.
In 2013, the value of opium and its derivative products in Afghanistan stood at $3 billion, up from $2 billion in 2012.
An unprecedented 209,000 hectares of poppy was grown in 2013, surpassing the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007. Between 2002 and 2013, the area under poppy cultivation increased by over 125,000 hectares.
More than 780 tonnes of heroin or morphine could be produced with the current crop. But the US Embassy in Kabul said it was making progress in building Afghan institutions to the point that they could tackle all aspects of the drug trade.
Charles Randolph, a programme coordinator at the embassy, said in a statement: “There is no silver bullet to eliminate drug cultivation or production in Afghanistan or to address the epidemic of substance abuse disorders that plagues too many Afghans. We are, however, building capacity to implement and lead counternarcotics efforts.”
About half of all poppy production in Afghanistan occurred in Helmand, where thousands of additional US Marines deployed as part of President Obama’s surge of troops.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.