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Afghanistan/drugs - UN interview

Price drop pushes down opium production but will it rise again?

Article published on the 2009-09-02 Latest update 2009-09-02 14:00 TU

Afghanistan's Minister of Counter Narcotics General Khodaidad shows a map of Afghanistan during a joint news conference in Kabul
(Photo: Reuters)

Afghanistan's Minister of Counter Narcotics General Khodaidad shows a map of Afghanistan during a joint news conference in Kabul
(Photo: Reuters)

The UN's Office of Drugs and Crime reports a drop in Afghanistan's opium production but officials say that it is mainly due to a fall in the price. A report says there has been a fall for the second year running, 22 per cent down in 2008, and hails a change in official policy.

The report welcomes a "dramatic turn-around" and notes changes in provincial governors' attitudes, an aggressive counter-narcotics offensive and the introduction of food farming to replace poppy production.

But, while land use is down 22 per cent, production is down only ten per cent, because farmers now produce 15 per cent more opium resin from poppies.

And UN officials admit that the main reason for the decline is market forces.

"Part of the reason is stronger governance in some parts of the country where opium is being grown," says Walter Kemp at the drugs body's headquarters in Vienna.

But the main reason for the decline is a fall in profitability thanks to overproduction and a rise in the price of wheat during last year's shortages.

"Opium is becoming less attractive for farmers," Kemp told RFI. "It's not much more lucrative than wheat and also there's stronger counter-narcotics operations being carried out by [the international force] Isaf and Afghan forces."

Comment: Walter Kemp of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime

02/09/2009 by David Page

Officials are hoping that the "market trend will continue", he says.

"A few years ago the ratio between income you could generate from opium as opposed to wheat was about 27 to one. Then it dropped to ten to one, now it's down to about three to one and in net value about two to one."

But a similar trend took place in the last year of Taliban rule, only to be reversed after the US-led invasion.

And the UN fears that there are 10,000 tonnes of opium stocked, awaiting an increase in profitability.

"One reason that the opium value has gone down is that there's now so much of it," Kemp admits. "Actually, we would have thought that it would have gone down even further because the last four years there's been such a surplus of opium production."

Cultivation is down a third in Helmand province, which grows the most poppies in the country, but is still higher than in 2006 when British troops were deployed there with a brief to reduce drug production.

The report also notes an increase in drug use in Afghanistan itself, which raises risks of the spread of HIV/Aids. A further report will be published later in the year on addiction.

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