11/03/2022, 13.54
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Afghanistan’s opium cultivation up by almost a third

According to the United Nations, this year's crop could yield up to 380 tonnes of heroin. Farmers’ earnings have tripled in the past year, but this has not meant a higher purchasing power due to the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis. Despite poor enforcement, the Taliban's ban on poppy cultivation had driven up prices.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is up by almost a third since the Taliban took power in August 2021, this despite a ban imposed by the Islamic Emirate in April of this year on opium production. Opium is the essential ingredient for making heroin.

According to the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the ban in fact almost doubled prices, driving farmers – amid the country's economic and humanitarian crisis – to stop growing wheat in favour of poppies.

The UN agency has been monitoring  the illegal drug market since the 1990s. According to its study, in 2022 the land devoted to poppy cultivation increased by 56,000 hectares (32 per cent) to 233,000, making this year's harvest the third largest ever.

Farmers' earnings tripled from US$ 425 million in 2021 to US$ 1.4 billion in 2022, which represents 29 per cent of the value of the entire agricultural sector in 2021.

“The sum still represents only a fraction of the income made from production and tracking within the country. Increasingly larger sums are further accrued along the illicit drug supply chain outside the country,” the report reads.

Afghanistan meets 80 per cent of the world's opiate demand. Poppy cultivation continues to be concentrated in the south-western regions, which account for 73 per cent of the total area under opium poppy cultivation.

In Hilmand province, for example, one fifth of arable land is dedicated to opium poppy, rather than food crops due to higher earnings. The UNODC estimates that the 2022 harvest can be converted into up to 380 tonnes of heroin whose purity ranges from 50 to 70 per cent.

Sowing for next year’s harvest must be done by early this month (i.e. within the next few days), but farmers, now dependent on the profits from the sale of opiates, are in a situation of great uncertainty because they do not know whether the Taliban’s ban will be enforced or no.

“Afghan farmers are trapped in the illicit opiate economy, while seizure events around Afghanistan suggest that opiate trafficking continues unabated,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

In 2021 illegal drug trafficking represented between 9 per cent and 14 per cent of Afghanistan's GDP. However, earnings from opium do not automatically translate into greater purchasing power, the United Nations Development Programme said, because inflation has also soared in the last year, with food prices rising by about 35 per cent.

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