Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has gone down by a fifth as compared to last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported last month. Thanks in part to good local leadership coupled with a drought, the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008 showed a 19 percent decrease in opium cultivation to 157,000 hectares, down from a record harvest of 193,000 in 2007.
“Last year the world got hit by a heroin tsunami, almost 700 tons,” noted UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. “This year the opium flood waters have started to recede.”
The survey also found that 18 of the country’s 34 provinces are now opium-free – up from 13 last year. In addition, cultivation now takes place “almost exclusively” in provinces affected by insurgency. Some 98 per cent of Afghanistan’s opium is grown in seven provinces in the southwest of the country – Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Farah, Nimroz, Daykundi and Zabul.
Helmand alone accounted for two thirds of the national total. “If Helmand were a country, it would once again be the world’s biggest producer of illicit drugs,” stated Mr. Costa.
“There is now a perfect overlap between zones of high risk and regions of high opium cultivation,” said Mr. Costa. “Since drugs are funding insurgency, and insurgency enables drug cultivation, insurgency and narcotics must be fought together,” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum is Nangarhar, which in 2007 was the country’s second highest opium-producing province and this year is opium-free.
UNODC attributed the drop in cultivation to good local leadership and the drought which has affected the north and northwest of the country. It said that strong leadership by some governors discouraged farmers from planting opium through campaigns against its cultivation, peer pressure and the promotion of alternative development.
While lauding the recent gains, UNODC is urging that everything be done to help the country continue to reduce opium cultivation, from providing farmers with viable alternatives to opium and closing heroin labs to going after drug traffickers and cracking down on corruption.