More disconcerting news coming out of an international Afghanistan donors conference in Tokyo this week. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued its annual winter survey of poppy planting patterns and predicted a poppy harvest close to last year’s record.
According to the UN, Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium.
U.N. Warns of Huge Crop of Afghan Opium Poppies, Carlotta Gall (The New York Times) 6 Feb 2008 -- In 2007, 477,000 acres were under poppy cultivation, yielding an estimated 9,000 tons of opium. The survey said the 2008 harvest would depend on levels of eradication and the weather. Good rainfall and water supply are expected to help the harvest in 2008, and no efforts at eradication were observed by mid-January, the report said.
The survey found that poppy cultivation was increasing in six provinces in southern and western Afghanistan. One of those provinces, Nimruz, was showing a sharp increase. Five provinces were expected to show no change, including Helmand, which produced 53 percent of Afghanistan’s opium last year, and where Taliban insurgents control much of the countryside.
Ten provinces are expected to show a decrease in cultivation, and 12 are likely to remain poppy free. These figures will depend on how effectively the Afghan authorities wage prevention and eradication campaigns, the report said. Nangarhar Province is expected to show a sharp drop because of agreements made with district leaders, it said.
Meanwhile, a UK governmental development agency, with the World Bank, issued a report saying that it will take at least 20 years and £1 billion in investment to break the Afghan economy’s dependence on opium. The report “Economic Incentives and Development Initiatives to Reduce Opium Production” recommends increased investment in infrastructure, alternative agriculture and rural development to woo farmers away from farming lucrative poppy. This echoes the Oxfam report released last week which in addition also recommends changing the aid system from its present top-down hierarchy to include more local involvement and input.
International Crisis Group also released its report “Afghanistan: The Need for International Resolve” touching on many of the same issues that have been discussed this week and last at the release of the Afghanistan Study Group report.