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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Afghanistan opium output soars by 87% as cultivation hits record high

Rising insecurity, lack of government control and corruption were among the key drivers along with unemployment and lack of education, according to the annual Afghanistan Opium Survey

Afghan farmers harvest opium sap from their poppy fields in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province on April 21, 2017. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP
Afghan farmers harvest opium sap from their poppy fields in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province on April 21, 2017. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP

Afghan opium producers have had a bumper year with output soaring 87 per cent as the area under poppy cultivation hit a record high, an annual survey said on Wednesday.

The price of opium as it left farms in Afghanistan this year soared by 55 per cent to almost US$1.4 billion (Dh5.1bn), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said, helping to fuel the bloody insurgency.

Rising insecurity, lack of government control and corruption were among the key drivers along with unemployment and lack of education, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey, jointly compiled by the UNODC and Afghanistan's counter-narcotics ministry.

Potential opium production from this year's harvest is estimated at 9,000 tons, up 87 per cent from the 4,800 tons produced last year, boosted by increased cultivation and better yields.

Over the same period the area under poppy cultivation expanded by 63 per cent to a record 328,000 hectares — topping the previous record of 224,000 hectares in 2014 — with the number of poppy-growing provinces jumping to 24.

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Only 10 Afghan provinces are now considered poppy free.

"The significant levels of opium poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates will probably further fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan," the report warned.

"More high quality, low cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world, with increased consumption and related harms as a likely consequence."

Strong increases in cultivation were recorded in almost all major poppy producing provinces, with restive Helmand in the south seeing the biggest rise of 79 per cent.

Around 60 per cent of the opium poppy cultivation took place in the southern provinces where the Taliban has a strong presence and virtually no eradication took place.

Helmand remained the top poppy-cultivating province, accounting for 44 per cent of the total, followed by Kandahar, Badghis, Faryab, Uruzgan and Nangarhar — all hotbeds for Taliban or ISIL activity.

Poppy eradication nearly doubled to 750 hectares in 14 provinces, compared with 355 hectares in seven provinces the previous year.

Yet those efforts were dwarfed by the sheer increase in cultivation.

International donors have spent billions of dollars on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade, including efforts to encourage farmers to switch to other cash crops such as saffron. But those efforts have shown little results.

Addiction levels have also risen sharply from almost nothing between 1996 and 2001 under the Taliban, giving rise to a new generation of addicts since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.