Cultivation of Afghan opium down as price remains high

Jean-Lue Lemahieu

The campaign to stop the growing of the opium poppy in Afghanistan is enjoying some success according to a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report published in the Afghan capital, Kabul, shows that a slight decrease in poppy cultivation can be expected in 2011, despite the current high price of opium. Daniel Dickinson reports.

Duration: 2’57″

The Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey gives a snapshot of current opium production in Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities say they have up-to-date information which points to the success of the eradication programme they have been undertaking. Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar, is the Deputy Minister for Counter-Narcotics, in Afghanistan.

“The eradication program was very successful and about one hour ago they sent me the details almost 2,700 hectares lands were eradicated so far. Our eradication program this year comparing to last year we have achieved 40 percent more. In the north and northeast the eradication program didn’t start yet, presumably the eradication will start in 15 days in those areas.”

The decrease in opium production overall is expected to be driven by a slightly lower level of cultivation in Helmand and Kandahar in the south.  Poppy cultivation in Helmand fell from over 103,000 hectares in 2008 to just over 65,000 hectares in 2010.  But, it’s not all good news… The report predicts a strong increase in cultivation in northern and north-eastern regions as well as in the south and west. Deputy Minister, Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar says there is a human cost of decreasing production.

“I should mention that from 23rd of January 2011 up to now 12 policeman have died and 44 injured, on the counter-narcotics process and also 5 farmers have been killed and one injured.”

The expected decrease in production has come despite the high price of opium on world markets. Prices remain high because of the demand from international crime syndicates which need opium to manufacture heroin. Jean-Lue Lemahieu, the UNODC Country Director, in Afghanistan says the authorities are working hard at countering the illegal trade.

“Today we have prices never seen before since 2004, when we have prices increases for fresh opium of 300 percent over one year time; for dry opium of 250 percent over one year time. There is no crop which can compete with those kinds of prices, we are very appeased to see the political will and the drive coming out of the government.”

The Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey is a prediction based on the information available to UNODC. The actual extent of opium production in Afghanistan is monitored using satellite technology. An analysis of satellite images showing crop production will take place later in the year giving a clearer indication as to whether the battle against poppy growing is being won.

Daniel Dickinson, United Nations.

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