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A new report out from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released startling statistics on Wednesday, reporting a record high in opium production in Afghanistan this year.
The UNODC report states that poppy production has risen to 516,500 acres, which outstrips the previous record of 477,000 acres, set in 2007. The yield of opium from the record harvest is estimated at 5,500 metric tons, this number is twice the yield reported last year in Afghanistan. These new numbers comes as an embarrassment to donors sending aid to Afghanistan for the past ten years attempting to convince Afghan farmers to stop harvesting the crop.
Afghanistan produced 75% of the global supply of heroin and opium last year, the head of the UNODC in Afghanistan estimates that that number will jump to 90% this year.
Officials believe that the increase in poppy production is a direct result of the anticipated withdrawal of NATO troops from that country scheduled for 2014 as farmers hedge against an uncertain future. Increased cultivation could also be attributed to the slowdown in international aid coming into the country causing the Afghan elite to turn to poppy cultivation to fill the void left by those decreased funds.
“As we approach 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces from the country, the results of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 should be taken for what they are – a warning, and an urgent call to action,” said the UNODC chief Yury Fedotov.
Efforts to switch farmers from opium harvsting to wheat production in the country were met with very limited success. Farmers point to the inability to support their families on growing wheat and many have returned to the old standby of opium.
Fedotov called the news “sobering,” and said the situation poses a threat to the stabillty and development of not only Afghanistan but beyond the borders. “What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem. Counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda.” He said.
Although prices have dropped somewhat from last year, the price of $145 per kilogram is still high enough to continue to lure farmers into the cultivation of the illicit substance. Those prices paid to farmers are dwarfed by the time opium reaches America. The wholesale value of that same kilogram skyrockets to approximately $3,000 and even more at the retail price of $16,000 per kilogram.
The Summary findings of the Afghanistan Opium Survey can be read here.(PDF)