• Record poppy cultivation reflects the complexity of Afghanistan's counter-narcotics efforts

Record poppy cultivation reflects the complexity of Afghanistan's counter-narcotics efforts

19 November 2013

The worrying increase in opium production in the last 12 months could reflect the fear felt by Afghans of difficult times ahead.

The hectares of land given to poppy cultivation has increased by 36% since 2012, from 154,000 to 209,000. These new figures are a record high for cultivation since 2001, despite international and Afghan attempts to eradicate the crop.

Following the release of UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013, (available here) the organisation has commented "Farmers may have driven up cultivation ... trying to shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future, which could ensue from the withdrawal of international troops next year."

International efforts to address the opium production problem have been mixed.  They are hampered by many factors including the continued insurgency and the inhospitable nature of Afghanistan’s terrain which favours poppy growth but challenges most other crops.  However, the report was launched 24 hours after more than 20 tonnes of illicit drugs, precursor materials and alcohol were destroyed by the Afghan authorities.

In 2008 an Afghanistan-focused think tank called The Senlis Council recommended halting the eradication programme.  They suggested creating a legitimate international market for the opium to be used in palliative medicines such as morphine.  Such programmes have been successful in India and Turkey.

Though this approach would bring its own oversight and security complications, perhaps the UNODC’s findings suggest new tactics should be considered.     

In the meantime, according to UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov, "What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem, embedded in a long-term security, development and institution-building agenda."