20 September 2005

In Afghanistan, Lower Opium Cultivation and Declining Drug Incomes in 2005 Break Four-Year Trend -- First Improvement Since Fall of Taliban 

UNODC Executive Director Calls for the Removal of Officials Involved in Deadly Trade

VIENNA, 20 September (UN Information Service) -- Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), offered the first complete analysis of the 2005 opium situation in Afghanistan at the RIA - Novosti in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, 20 September at 13:00 hours.

According to UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005, to be published in late September, opium cultivation is down this year by 21 per cent, from 131,000 to 104,000 hectares (ha).  Also, fewer households were involved in opium production (-13 per cent), revenues from drugs were lower (-3.5 per cent), and  Afghanistan's legal economy continued to grow significantly (10.4 per cent).

"This is the best drug-related news since the fall of the Taliban," said Mr. Costa. "This year, we saw how well the stick and carrot approach really works. The fear that authorities would eradicate the opium crops made it riskier for farmers to cultivate poppies.  At the same time, income support in the countryside gave farmers an opportunity to engage in other, legal activities.  Of course, one year does not make a trend, but these policies are working."

The UNODC Executive Director warned that, "The counter-narcotics story is the same the world over. From Colombia, where the problem is coca, to the Golden Triangle and Afghanistan, where opium is prevalent, law enforcement and income support are both needed to eliminate drugs from the fields without triggering humanitarian disasters."

During a meeting in Moscow with Victor Cherkessov, Director of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, the UNODC Executive Director was briefed on the effects of Afghan opium trafficking in the Russian Federation. Mr. Cherkessov cautioned that "the influence of Afghan opiates extends beyond the drug trafficking and drug abuse ramifications, but has far-reaching impact since it is linked to corruption and financing of terrorist activities". Mr. Cherkessov urged increased international cooperation to limit the impact of the Afghan drug problem. In 2004, heroin seizures in the Russian Federation reached their highest level ever with 3.9 tons seized.

Nature did not help, so opium production remained high

UNODC reports that the 2005 decline in opium cultivation had limited impact on production.  Significant rain and snow during the winter resulted in a 22 per cent higher yield (from 32 kg/ha in 2004 to 39 kg/ha in 2005).  At 4,100 metric tons of opium, Afghan opium production in 2005 was only marginally lower (-2.4 per cent) than it was in 2004 (4,200 tons).  Afghanistan remains the world's largest supplier of opium (87 per cent).

According to UNODC Executive Director Mr. Costa, "One farmer out of five, who cultivated opium in 2004, did not do so in 2005:  in this case, the human players delivered."

"Of course, you cannot control nature," stated Mr. Costa, adding that, "from Europe's point of view, what counts, of course, are tons of production, not hectares of cultivation, because Europe is where the bulk of Afghan heroin is consumed.  We are asking European States for greater engagement in Afghanistan." 

Corruption among governors causes crop shifts

In different provinces, drug cultivation was affected by different degrees of corruption, pressure from insurgents, and law enforcement.  According to the UNODC Report, opium cultivation shifted from the centre and east of the country, to the north and west - away from some of the traditional centres (Nangarhar, Badakshan and Hilmand), towards the fertile lands where crop productivity is high.  "Incidentally, these north-western Afghan provinces, where the opium crop has increased, are also the places where NATO forces operate. I call for greater NATO involvement in counter-narcotics," said Mr. Costa.

The uneven decline also reflects different degrees of commitment on the part of provincial governors, some of whom continue to maintain links with the drug trade.

"How do you explain the collapse of cultivation in the province of Nangarhar (-96 per cent), and the enormous increases in key provinces such as Balkh (+334 per cent) and Farah (+348 per cent)?  Corruption is the wild card, and we have got to remove it from the deck," said Mr. Costa.  The United Nations has called for the removal of corrupt governors from office. 

UNODC reports that cultivation declined most in regions that benefited most from economic assistance. "Illicit though it is, in many parts of Afghanistan, opium is the only commercially viable crop.  It is no surprise, therefore, that the three provinces that received the greatest volumes of income support in 2005 - Nangarhar, Badakhshan and Hilmand - curbed cultivation the most.  Assistance to farmers is needed until the legal economy takes over as the mainstay of growth in Afghanistan," said Mr. Costa.  UNODC confirms that overall, in 2005 the drug economy was equivalent to half (52 per cent) of Afghanistan's Gross Domestic Product, a major decline from the 2004 figure (67 per cent).

The opium market is splintering, due to interdiction and supply changes

In 2005, opium prices across Afghanistan changed greatly, evidence of growing market fragmentation. Much lower prices per kilogramme (112 US $) in the North reflect strong increases in production. Higher prices in Eastern (179 US $) and Central Afghanistan (235 US $) show lower output and greater interdiction. "The market is more fragmented than ever since the Taliban:  higher prices are an important leading indicator of higher risk. Traffickers now face tougher law enforcement, especially in the provinces where the Enduring Freedom coalition forces operate," UNODC reports. 

Farmers suffer as traffickers get richer:  the case for targeted measures

A smaller number of farming families (-13 per cent) were involved in the opium cultivation in 2005.  Those who did cultivate, because of higher yields, earned a bit more (6 per cent).  However, as in 2004, farmers took in a much smaller percentage of revenue (560 million US $) than Afghan traffickers (2.1 billion US $). Once again, the United Nations has asked for stronger measures against opium trading. "It is time to cut the proverbial umbilical cord between traffickers and farmers: arrest the drug lords, destroy the labs, and stop the convoys.  Farmers themselves will not know what to do with the opium, prices will decline, and grain and apples will become attractive crops", said the UNODC Executive Director. 

Goals and Prospects 

In 2004, UNODC asked the Government of Afghanistan to focus on four goals, and there has been progress:  the Government has conducted an eradication/persuasion campaign to discourage poppy cultivation; some traffickers have being prosecuted, albeit at a slow pace; the Government is now struggling, painfully, with corruption in Kabul and the provinces; and a Ministry of Counter-Narcotics has been created.

UNODC recommendations for 2005 are:

"It takes more than counter-narcotic efforts to fight drugs," said Mr. Costa. "Fighting corruption, violence, crime and money-laundering; creating a stronger judiciary, a clean parliament, and an honest police force are all parts of the process. Without all these measures, democracy, peace and stability in Afghanistan remain threatened."


For information contact:

Kathleen Millar
Deputy Spokesperson, UNODC
Telephone: +43 1 260 60 5629
Mobile: +43 699 1459 5629
E-mail: kathleen.millar@unodc.org