04 March 2005
Afghanistan Produces Record-Breaking Opium Poppy Crop
Report says security problems, economics drive Afghan opium trade
By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Afghanistan's opium poppy production reached record high levels in 2004, due in part to a dangerous security situation, a lack of alternative income streams and limited law enforcement capabilities, according to the State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued March 4.
The report states that 206,700 hectares were devoted to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2004 -- more than a threefold increase over the amount of land under cultivation in 2003. The fields produced an estimated 4,950 metric tons of opium gum, far exceeding the country's previous record of 3,108 metric tons in 2000.
Afghanistan's 2004 opium production could potentially be refined into 582 metric tons of heroin, putting Afghanistan far ahead of Burma, the second place heroin producer, with a production potential of 28 metric tons.
The report indicates that Afghanistan's opium yield would have been nearly twice as high but for unfavorable weather conditions and disease.
"Poppy cultivation is likely to continue until responsible government authority is established throughout the country and until rural poverty levels can be reduced via provision of alternative livelihoods and increased rural incomes," the report says.
It says that the establishment of security and the rule of law is the government's most immediate concern as the current security environment impedes law enforcement efforts.
It also says, "The lack of sustainable alternative sources of income compounds the difficulty of reducing the opium poppy crop. Because so much of the rural economy is dependent on the opium trade, a major forced eradication campaign, without the provision of viable alternatives, could destroy the already fragile Afghan economy."
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that narcotics account for 40 to 60 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP).
The report says that the Afghan government has taken several measures to address the problem. These include the creation of a specially trained interdiction force within the counternarcotics police, the creation of a poppy eradication force, the appointment of a deputy minister for counternarcotics within the Ministry of the Interior, and the creation of a new Counternarcotics Ministry.
The report says that the October 2004 national elections gave the government greater legitimacy to deal with the problems. But it says that while the national government has condemned the drug trade, "[it] does not have sufficient power throughout the national territory to suppress it."
The report says that the United States, in cooperation with the United Kingdom, has developed a program to assist the government of Afghanistan in its counternarcotics efforts.
The program includes: building popular support for the counternarcotics effort through public awareness campaigns; creating alternative income sources in rural areas; building the capacity of the law enforcement and judicial systems; destroying drug labs; dismantling the trafficking networks; and eradicating crops.
The report says that sustained international assistance for economic diversification, drug education and law enforcement can reduce Afghanistan's opium production over time but adds, "drug processing and trafficking can be expected to continue until security is established and drug law enforcement capabilities can be increased."
The report can be found at http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2005/
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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