UN Report: Afghan Opium Poppy Farming Dwindles by 95% Amid Taliban Rule, Dealing a Blow to Livelihoods of Farmers and Laborers

November 5, 2023

An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad province, April 17, 2014 [Parwiz/Reuters]

Afghanistan is the world’s top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced. Despite more than a decade of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency, poppy expanded to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres) in 2013, up 36 percent from the previous year.

Poppy cultivation and opium production have plunged more than 90 percent in Afghanistan since Taliban authorities banned the crop last April, according to a UN report published on Sunday.

Poppy cultivation has dropped by around 95 percent – from 233,000 hectares at the end of 2022 to 10,800 in 2023 – since the Taliban officially banned poppy farming in April 2022, according to the report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Opium production has taken the same path, falling from 6,200 tonnes to 333 tonnes over the same period giving a major blow to Afghan farmers who have experienced a staggering $1bn drop in their revenue.

UN officials said that while this trend could help in the fight against the illicit opium trade, it also presented risks to a vulnerable population that has long depended on the poppy trade for their livelihood.

“This presents a real opportunity to build towards long-term results against the illicit opium market and the damage it causes both locally and globally,” said Ghada Waly, executive director of UNODC.

“At the same time, there are important consequences and risks that need to be addressed for an outcome that is ultimately positive and sustainable, especially for the people of Afghanistan.”

The country has been facing humanitarian and financial hardships after the Taliban stormed to power in August 2021 following the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces. The group has struggled to revive the economy due to international sanctions and its financial and diplomatic isolation.

Humanitarian crisis

Opium poppy, which grows extensively in Afghanistan’s southern fields, contains the main opium ingredient used to manufacture heroin.

Afghanistan was previously the world’s top opium producer – responsible for over 80 percent of global supply – and a major source of heroin in Europe and Asia.

The Taliban once played a major role in this industry as well, generating an estimated $400m from the trade between 2018 and 2019 that helped fund its activities, US officials reported.

A September report from the UNODC said that Afghanistan is the world’s fastest-growing maker of another drug methamphetamine, known colloquially as speed, crystal or meth. Seizures of the synthetic drug have increased amid a drop in poppy cultivation.

Source: news agencies

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