Opium poppy cultivation blocks Afghan development

Opium cultivation continues to flourish in Afghanistan, jeopardizing stability, development and health.

The UN reported record high opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year, according to a survey released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. This brings production to 5,500 tons, an increase of nearly 50% since 2012. Out of a total of 34 provinces, only 15 remained poppy-free in 2013, compared to 17 in 2012.

This increase in opium poppy cultivation poses a serious threat to stability, development and health in Afghanistan. Various international organizations have called for a thorough response to the situation. Even though prices have reportedly been lower than in 2012 (falling from $163 per kg to $143 per kg), prices continued to be high enough to persuade farmers to produce poppy. By comparison, a kilogram of harvested rice will only earn a farmer around $1.25. Opium poppy is not only sold at relatively high prices, but it is also a perfect crop for Afghanistan’s climate and geography.

Nearly 90% of cultivated opium originated in nine provinces in Afghanistan’s south and west, “which include the most insecure provinces in the country,” as well as those where organized criminal networks are dominant, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report. Evidence on opium cultivation distribution correlates with political instability.

The link between insecurity and opium cultivation originally confirmed in 2007 continues to exist today, as shown in this research. When the U.S. initially entered Afghanistan in 2001, there was no intervention in the opium poppy fields, out of fear that interfering with many locals’ incomes would damage the troops’ popularity in the region. However, investment in combating insurgent groups flooded the money market, further devaluing the Afghan currency, and indirectly encouraging investment in opium poppy farming.

Although the US has attempted to provide alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers, nothing has topped poppies in terms of profitability. The U.S. has also tried to control poppy fields that are connected to the Taliban, meaning that poppy fields not directly related to insurgency have been left to flourish.

The UN opium report comes at a time when Afghanistan’s future seems uncertain, with violent attacks ever present. Last Monday saw another mine explode and kill seven children, adding to the tally of hundreds of children killed this year due to conflict between Afghan government forces and insurgents. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported 231 deaths in the first six months of 2013, with 529 children injured.

On top of recent violence, continuing instability has been created as a result of uncertainty surrounding the position of the U.S. in the country. Reports circulated on Wednesday indicating that the U.S. and Afghanistan may agree on the draft of a mutual security pact, confirming the extension of US troops remaining in Afghanistan until 2024. These troops would remain in Afghanistan to contribute to the training of Afghanistan’s security forces, as well as to maintain outposts for combatting al Qaeda.

On top of this, and as a result of these talks, rumours have spread with regard to a U.S. apology to Afghanistan. Rumours stated that President Barack Obama promised to acknowledge mistakes made during the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. However, National Security Advicer Susan Rice told CNN that there was no need for the US to apologize to Afghanistan, as the US has “sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda.”

More on Afghanistan’s future from GRI:

Complications Lie Ahead for Afghanistan’s Election Reform

Afghanistan’s Opium has Regional Repercussions

Russia Prepares for NATO Withdrawal from Afghanistan

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Categories: Central Asia, Security

Author:Margaux Schreurs

Margaux is a graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science with an MSc China in Comparative Perspective with a focus on a comparison between North Korea and China. Having grown up in Singapore, she travels widely in Asia and has spent extended amounts of time in China and Vietnam, and speaks both Chinese and Vietnamese. She has a BA Development Studies and Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies with a regional focus on East and Southeast Asia, and focuses mainly on these regions as a freelance writer. As a recipient of the Chinese Government Scholarship, she is studying Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University, in preparation for further academic research in China.

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