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Afghan opium poppy cultivation plunges by 95 percent under Taliban: UN

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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.

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.

However, the group has pledged to eliminate this drug cultivation enterprise after seizing power, instituting a formal ban on the crop in April 2022. This proved devastating to rural farmers who long relied on the crop for their income, and compounded a humanitarian crisis that is among the worst in the world.

More than two years after the Taliban took over, Afghans continue to struggle with drought and the prolonged effects of decades of war and natural disasters. Today, more than 40 percent of Afghanis suffer from acute food insecurity and more than half rely on humanitarian aid.

UNODC executive director Waly said the loss of the opium trade was adding to the country’s humanitarian needs.

“Afghanistan is in dire need of strong investment in sustainable livelihoods to provide Afghans with opportunities away from opium,” she said.

The financial shock to the opiate supply chain could drive other illegal activities, like the smuggling of arms, people, or synthetic drugs, the recent UNODC report said.

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.

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