A November 13 press release issued by the UNODC — the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime — stated that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 36 percent in 2013, which is a record high. Additionally, opium production amounted to 5,500 tons, up by 49 percent since 2012.
The release cited as its source the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey released the same day in Kabul by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UNODC.
Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, called the news “sobering” and emphasized that the increase in opium production presents a threat to health, stability, and development in Afghanistan and elsewhere. “What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem. Counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda,” said Fedotov.
The report indicated that the area of opium poppies under cultivation in Afghanistan rose to 209,000 hectares from the previous year's total of 154,000 hectares, and was higher than the peak of 193,000 hectares reached in 2007. (A hectare is equal to 100 acres.)
“As we approach 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces from the country, the results of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 should be taken for what they are — a warning, and an urgent call to action,” Fedotov continued.
When an AP reporter interviewed an Afghan farmer named Khan Bacha, who lives in the village Cham Kalai, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, he provided his explanation for turning to farming poppies. “People are poor, families are big. Wheat is no good,” said Bacha. “The only thing that is good is poppies. They are gold.”
The report noted that there was a five-fold increase in the number of acres planted in poppies in Nangarhar from 2012-2013, representing the biggest increase in Afghanistan.
Nangarhar is a stronghold for Taliban insurgents, noted Kathy Gannon, AP’s special regional correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan. She observed that the mere mention of security in the area made Bacha smile. The farmer gestured off in the distance and said that just the night before the Taliban fought a fierce battle with Afghan troops backed by “foreign soldiers” — referring to NATO troops.