Opium production soars
Afghanistan is one of the largest suppliers of opium, the prime ingredient in producing heroin. Despite efforts to curb the opium crop, many provinces have slipped back into production, given the hike in the international price of opium. Prices rose sharply owing to a shortage in supply from last year when the crops were severely affected by disease and little was exported. The practice, seen as monetarily beneficial, is a great business for many Afghan farmers who are otherwise unable to make both ends meet. Cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan has risen by 7% with 131,000 hectares having been brought under cultivation this year, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Speaking at a press conference, Afghan Minister for Counter Narcotics, Zerar Ahmed Muqbel, stated that 1810 hectares in 18 provinces had seen eradication programs which showed a 65% eradication increase as compared to last year but medium-term projections were not positive; a statement that UNODC chief, Yury Fedotov supported.
Previous joint efforts by Afghan forces and NATO were successful in stamping out opium production from many provinces. However, the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar have always remained prime producers, generating close to 80% of total trade. A link between insecurity and production recently shows that the trade has revived in lawless and remote provinces, bringing the total number of provinces producing opium to 17 from 14 last year. Insecurity has been a central trigger that has increased production. President Karzai has objected to aerial eradication in the past and manual eradication is seen as ineffective. Many, however, see the revenue from opium production as directly funding the insurgency and have called on the international community to address the ‘root cause’ of the problem.