Friday, January 13, 2012

Afghanistan: UN-backed survey shows sharp rise in opium production and prices

UN - The price of opium in Afghanistan rose dramatically last year, according to a joint survey by the United Nations and the Government that was released today, which also shows that the farm-gate income from the narcotic probably amounted to over $1.4 billion, equivalent to nine per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

The 2011 Afghan Opium Survey, carried out by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, reveals a 133 per cent increase in the farm-gate value of opium compared with the previous year.

Export earnings from Afghan opiates may be worth $2.4 billion, equivalent to 15 per cent of GDP. “Opium is therefore a significant part of the Afghan economy and provides considerable funding to the insurgency and fuels corruption,” said Yury Fedotov, the UNODC Executive Director.

Almost 60 per cent of farmers surveyed last year said they were primarily motivated by the high prices fetched by opium poppy cultivation, which will continue to remain attractive if it reaps bumper profits, according to the survey, a preliminary version of which was released in October.

Compounding the problem was a simultaneous drop in the price of wheat. Gross income from opium last year was 11 times higher than that earned from wheat, the biggest difference in income since 2003.

In 2010 a poppy plant disease wiped out much of the opium yield and the resulting scarcity of fresh opium triggered a speculative rise in prices. While higher prices had been expected last year after opium yields returned to pre-blight levels, the 2011 values far exceeded expectations, according to the survey.

The gross per hectare income from opium cultivation ($10,700) therefore also reached levels not observed since 2003.

An estimated 90 per cent of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan. The survey showed that poppy-crop cultivation spread over 131,000 hectares last year, seven per cent higher than in 2010. The amount of opium produced increased by 61 per cent, from 3,600 tons in 2010 to 5,800 tons last year.

“The Afghan Opium Survey 2011 sends a strong message that we cannot afford to be lethargic in the face of this problem. We thank the Government of Afghanistan for the leadership and dedication already shown, but a stronger commitment from a broad range of national and international partners is needed to turn this worrying trend around,” said Mr. Fedotov.

UNODC recently launched an ambitious regional programme for Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, which focuses on counter-narcotics, as well as a new country programme to support alternative livelihoods for opium poppy farmers.