About 328,000 hectares are under opium cultivation, enough to produce 550 to 900 tonnes of heroin, at a value of US$ 6.6 billion. In the south four villages in five are involved in production, with 354,000 people working in the harvest as a way out of rural poverty. Opium finances rebel forces and destabilises the region.
Kabul (AsiaNews) – In 2017, opium cultivation in Afghanistan reached a record high with an estimated 328,000 hectares, up 63 per cent compared with 201,000 hectares in 2016, this according to latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Together with the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics (MCN), the UN agency has issued a warning, noting that large swathes of the country have become dependent on opium production and trade, which have become a source of funding for rebel groups and a reason for the country’s instability.
The report indicates that the 2017 opium harvest could be turned into some 550-900 tonnes of heroin of export quality (purity between 50 and 70 per cent).
What is more, Afghanistan’s record high opium production has led to a rapid expansion of the illegal economy in 2017, from US$ 4.1 to 6.6 billion, which represents 32 per cent of GDP.
Opium poppy has become such a crucial component of the Afghan economy that it secures the livelihoods of many Afghans. In fact, in the Western and Northern regions, farmers grow poppy in more than a third of the villages; in the Eastern region in more than 50 per cent and in the Southern region in more than 80 per cent.
In 2017, opium poppy weeding and harvesting provided the equivalent of up to 354,000 full time jobs in rural areas.
Although the income generated by opium poppy helps the country’s impoverished rural population to cope with its economic and social challenges, this comes at a cost, as the illicit economy discourages private and public investment by fuelling insecurity, violence and insurgency.
This affects both Afghanistan as well as its neighbours. In fact, the lack of governmental presence and security are driving factors behind opium production, which further destabilises the country by funding insurgency and anti-government groups.
In 2017, the Taliban and other insurgency groups earned anywhere between US$ 116 and 184 million in “taxes” from opiate production.