UN Fail to Reduce Opium Cultivation in Afghanistan

A recently published report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which focuses on Afghan opium farming, presents little progress throughout 2010, despite continuing efforts to minimize farming of the crop throughout the country. 

The document states that, despite farming of opium poppy remaining at a similar level to the previous year (2009), production of the drug has halved.  However, such decline is not a result of UNODC efforts but rather a “naturally occurring plant disease”, which spread throughout many opium poppy-growing regions in 2010.  Figures show that, along with the decreased production of the drug, exportation and traffickers’ income have also been reduced by 50%.

Although this may initially sound promising, the UNODC is concerned about the subsequent inflation and associated problems, which are beginning to manifest throughout the country.

According to the report, the decline in production resulted in a 200% rise in market price.  Simultaneously, the price of wheat, “Afghanistan’s principal crop alternative to opium”, has dropped severely, which has therefore made poppy farming “six times more profitable”.  The UNODC is now worried that the current situation in the country will lead to farmers opting for the crop that provides the greatest income, something that seems inevitable.

In an attempt to prevent opium poppy farming, the UNODC is aiming to provide as many farmers and families with the equipment and resources to cultivate and sell licit crops, a manoeuvre they view as “the most effective” solution to the problem.  Legal crop cultivation is being encouraged through the provision of “agricultural assistance”, which the document later defines as seeds, fertilisers, tools, sapling, irrigation facilities, and insecticide. 

However, figures from the report show that it is only fertilizer and seeds which are being provided in substantial amounts.  With illicit crop cultivation proving six-times more profitable than the legal alternatives, it seems evident that the UNODC will need to increase their aid of the tools and equipment if they wish to persuade the Afghan farmers to follow their lead.