he growing of opium poppies in the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar is predicted to be down for the second year running.
But a UN drugs forecast released on Monday says that poppy growing will increase elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Forecasting the Afghan crop is a tricky business, and the groundwork for this UN survey is based on the sample of only a few villages in each province.
But matched with satellite imaging, it suggests poppy growing will spread.
And that spread this year will even extend into provinces that had become poppy-free in recent years.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has expressed concern in particular about a predicted increase in Nangahar, a large province bordering Pakistan where poppy growing had been all but eradicated in recent years.
It is a strange market that does not conform to usual market forces.
Although the price to farmers more than doubled last year to $164 a kilogram – because of a cut in output caused by crop disease – the price paid by buyers abroad did not go up.
When you see more conflict, when you see more poverty, you will see more opium cultivation” End Quote Jean Luc Lemahieu UNODC head in Kabul
So Afghanistan’s drug barons were squeezed in the middle.
The higher prices paid to farmers played a big part in encouraging more to plant this year.
The UN survey predicts more planting across a wide swathe of central Afghanistan – from Herat and Ghor in the west to the provinces east of Kabul along the Pakistan border.
Their forecast for the northern region will come out later in the year, as the season starts later in the north.
The predicted rise in poppy planting tallies with other evidence suggesting that the Taliban insurgency has spread across a wider region of the country.
The UNODC’s head in Kabul, Jean Luc Lemahieu, said tough measures were needed so that the forecast did not become a reality.
„When you see more conflict, when you see more poverty, you will see more opium cultivation. That is why we continue saying this is not business as usual. We need to put extraordinary measures in place today,“ he said.
The silver lining in the forecast is that for the third year running, Helmand’s crop is forecast to reduce this year – and for the second year, Kandahar too will grow fewer poppies.
These two provinces are by far the largest poppy-growing regions in Afghanistan – accounting for more than a third of the world’s opium between them.
The surge of US troops along with British troops in the main population centres in Helmand played a big part, as did weather conditions – too cold and dry at the time farmers wanted to plant.
But the deputy head of the British mission in Helmand, Leo Tomlin, said the forecast showed that a set of policies were working.
They include public information, strong leadership from the Governor Gulab Mangal, tougher policing and better job opportunities.
„It’s almost an aligning of the stars. That’s also why counter-narcotics takes a long time. It’s not something you can start one year and expect to see immediate results,“ he said.
„It’s something that needs a long-term investment, a continued investment with a very similar type of predictable programme.“
Even these predicted reductions will leave more than 65,000 hectares under cultivation for poppies in Helmand and some 25,000 hectares in Kandahar.
It may have been pushed onto marginal land, out of sight, but it still remains a potent threat to stability and security in Afghanistan.
High opium price not increasing cultivation in Afghanistan: report
Jan 31, 2011, 14:14 GMT
Kabul – The United Nations said Monday in a report that the increasing price of opium had not boosted its cultivation in the main producing provinces of southern Afghanistan.
It also said opium growing was ’strongly associated with insecurity and lack of agricultural assistance.‘
The current high price of opium did not produce an increase in opium cultivation in the biggest producing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, the report titled Afghanistan: Opium Survey 2011 said.
The opium winter assessment report prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan Counter Narcotics Ministry also predicted a decrease in the opium cultivation in the two southern provinces in 2011.
The UN report said the reasons for decreasing cultivation could be dry climate conditions leading to crop failure, a changing political environment, increasing government control and more military operations by Afghan and international troops around the time of poppy planting which ‚may have‘ discouraged the farmers.
NATO-led forces with Afghan security personnel have been pushing the Taliban from the areas around Kandahar and Helmand since 2010 with ’some gains‘ in the region.
In other parts of Afghanistan, mainly the western, eastern and central provinces, the report observed an increase.
The UN report warned of ‚increasing cultivation trends‘ in the western and eastern regions, especially in Nangarhar, bordering the highly volatile Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area in Pakistan, and said it has ‚the potential to be a major poppy cultivating province.‘
The report studied the first phase of the assessment for December and January.
‚Villages with a low level of security and which had not received agricultural assistance in the previous year were significantly more likely to grow poppy in 2011 than villages with good security and those which had received assistance,‘ the report said.
Earlier this month, the UN drug agency had said that rising opium prices could drive up Afghanistan’s production area in 2011 for the first time in four years.
The price went up by 164 per cent in 2010. The total harvest was nearly halved due to bad weather conditions and a plant disease.
Afghanistan is the world’s biggest opium-producing country with a global share of 77 per cent. At least 1.7 million farmers are directly engaged in the cultivation of poppy farms, according to the UN.
For the Taliban insurgents, poppy production is one of the main sources of income which funds their insurgency.
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan to decline despite high prices – UN
31 January 2011 – Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is expected to decline slightly this year despite the current high prices of opium, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today, basing the information on a qualitative assessment of farmers’ intentions in the Asian country.“The findings of the Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey in the southern region are encouraging,” said Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC.
“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 added.
Planted poppy seeds start to germinate in winter in the main opium producing provinces in the southern, western and eastern areas of Afghanistan, while sowing takes place later in the north, according to UNODC.
The expected decline in opium cultivation, as well as prolonged drought in the south may lead to another year of reduced opium production, the agency said. An outbreak of opium blight last year cut production by half and caused prices to soar.
The survey once again highlighted the direct correlation between insecurity, lack of agricultural aid and opium cultivation, UNODC noted. Villages considered insecure and lacking agricultural assistance are more likely to grow poppy this year than those with better security and assistance.
An estimated 90 per cent of insecure villages are involved in opium cultivation, while those targeted by anti-poppy awareness campaigns are significantly less likely to grow poppy, the agency reported.