Skip to content or view screen version

AFGHANISTAN: War heightens risk of renewed poppy cultivation

Daniel Brett | 16.11.2001 16:39

ISLAMABAD, 16 Nov 2001 (IRIN) - With Afghanistan's agriculture and economy in disarray, the head of the UN's drug control programme (UNDCP) in Afghanistan, Bernard Frahi, has warned that the temptation to replant poppies may prove too hard to resist for destitute Afghan farmers.

Given that the opium trade represented a threat to regional stability, Frahi said drug control had to be kept high on the agenda of any post-conflict reconstruction plan for Afghanistan.

The effect of the Taliban ban appears to have been unprecedented in attempts to curb the production of illicit drugs worldwide. "The ban removed about 3,000 mt of opium, which is seven times more than what Iran has seized, 50 times more than Pakistan's seizure and 30 times more than what was seized in eastern Europe over a period of one year," Frahi said. This clearly demonstrated that eradicating poppy cultivation at source could be far more effective then attempting to intercept drug trafficking, he added.

Through sustained dialogue with Taliban officials and farmers, Frahi said that the UNDCP advocacy campaign contributed to the Taliban decree last year which reduced production in one season from 3,000 mt to 185 mt.

Ironically, most of the remaining poppy cultivation was now from the Northern Alliance stronghold province of Badakhshan. "Eighty-three percent of the crop [last season] was grown in Badakhshan and the rest was grown in areas that frequently changed hands between the warring parties, along front lines or in independent tribal territories," Frahi explained.

With the ongoing war and increased insecurity, there was a risk of many more farmers reverting to sowing poppies this winter. Frahi said little was known about what farmers had opted to plant this season. He acknowledged that for a destitute Afghan farmer there were clear economic incentives to sow poppies.

Poppy was a cash crop and used by farmers as an informal currency, he said, explaining that farmers usually kept 60 percent of their opium crop in reserve for emergencies. Unlike other crops, there was a ready market for opium, a legacy of Afghanistan's war economy.

"Poppy cultivation is very much an economic problem, and its eradication needs economic incentives for the farmers at grass-roots level," he said. The solution was to provide alternative means of livelihood for poppy farmers and labourers, who currently had no source of income.

Attempts to address this were made by international donors earlier in the year, with financial support earmarked to wean farmers away from illicit crop-growing. Frahi warned that the road ahead was long. "This is not a short-term problem; it needs long term planning, maybe up to 10 years of targeting poppy farmers," he said.

A recent UNDCP report placed Afghanistan as the world's main producer of opium, meeting over 70 percent of the global demand between 1998 and 1999.

Prior to September, a kilogramme of opium was locally available for US $700. The prevailing uncertainly prior to US-led military action in Afghanistan saw the price drop to $90 per kg, rising again to $330 by late October once the campaign had started, he explained. The lack of a corresponding price fluctuation in western Europe and beyond suggested extensive stockpiles outside of Afghanistan, perhaps along trafficking routes to Western Europe, he added.

Drug experts maintain that the opium trade has spawned an extensive trafficking industry throughout Central Asia by well-armed, well-financed criminal groups, with dire implications for the region. Drug trafficking through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has led to a rise in addiction and related HIV infection.

Some experts have argued that the disruption of trafficking routes northwards has led to more drugs being shipped into Pakistan, where there are estimated to be 3 million addicts already. Efforts are being made to address illicit trafficking over the porous border. The US State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement announced on 6 November a $73 million plan to reinforce Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Daniel Brett
- e-mail:
- Homepage: