A slight decrease in opium cultivation can be expected in Afghanistan in 2011, despite the current high price of opium. A qualitative assessment of farmers’ intentions gives grounds for cautious optimism that neither cultivation nor production will spiral out of control as previously feared.
“The findings of the Afghanistan Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey 2011 in the southern region are encouraging” said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “A combination of factors seemed to have contributed to this development: dry weather, efforts directed against poppy cultivation and towards increasing government control, as well as licit alternatives to poppy”, he stressed.
Winter is when poppy starts to germinate in the main opium-producing provinces of the South, West and East of the country, while planting takes place later in the North. The expected decline in opium cultivation as well as prolonged drought in the South may lead to another year of reduced opium production. Due to an opium blight in 2010, production halved and prices soared.
The Survey has once again highlighted the direct correlation between insecurity, lack of agricultural aid and opium cultivation. Villages considered as insecure and lacking agricultural assistance were more likely to grow poppy in 2011 than villages with better security and assistance. Some 90 per cent of insecure villages are involved in opium cultivation. Villages targeted by anti-poppy awareness campaigns were significantly less likely to grow poppy in 2011.
In the western provinces of Farah, Hirat, Ghor and Nimroz, poppy cultivation is expected to increase. The eastern and central provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Kabul and Kapisa are following the same pattern. Kapisa and Ghor could see a return to opium cultivation, which may lead to the loss of their poppy-free status if poppy-crop eradication is not carried out in time. The remaining provinces in the central and eastern regions, which were poppy-free in 2010, are expected to retain that status.
The current high price of opium has not resulted in an increase in opium cultivation in Hilmand and Kandahar, the highest opium-cultivating provinces. Cultivation is actually expected to decrease in these provinces in 2011. There has been a change in the political environment in Hilmand, with the Governor taking initiatives to convince elders and farmers to reduce the amount of poppy crop planted. However, Hilmand is expected to retain its status as the largest opium-cultivating province.
Farah and Nimroz are expected to see a moderate increase in opium cultivation while the situation in Badghis province is still unpredictable. Finally, there could be a strong increase in opium cultivation in Hirat province.