Northern Alliance main opium producer: UN

UN: Afghan government has largely failed to eradicate the opium poppy crop

Boston Globe
, Aug.19, 2002

Opium crops in W. Nooristam (RAWA photo - June 2003)

KABUL, Aug 19 (Boston Globe) -- The new Afghan government has largely failed in its four-month effort to eradicate the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan, which in recent years became the worlds biggest producer of the raw material for heroin, UN specialists reported yesterday.

Their figures show this years crop could be worth more than $1 billion at the farm level in Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban factions --especially ethnic Pashtun groups in the east of the country-- are whole-heartedly involved in the trade. Indeed, if anything the Northern Alliance has been more closely associated with narcotics than the Taliban.

The Taliban regime largely confined itself to taking a ten to twenty percent levy on opium harvests, heroin production, and drug shipments, earning it a minimum of $40-45 million annually. By contrast, the Northern Alliance -or at least key figures in it-have actively engaged in the production, sale and trafficking of opium for factional and personal gain.

Mark Galeotti, The Observer/The News,
December 31, 2001

Thats a big chunk of GDP, said Hector Maletta, a spokesman for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Afghanistans gross domestic product for 1999, the latest estimate available, was put at $21 billion.

By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 percent of the worlds opium. In 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, which led to a 96 percent reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in last years growing season, according to UN and US drug agencies.

But the US-led war that ousted the Taliban late last year prompted Afghan farmers to plant poppy over tens of thousands of acres.

In April, the interim government of President Hamid Karzai announced an eradication program. Farmers would be compensated with $500 per acre for destroyed poppy, the government said. Thats only a fraction of the estimated $6,400 per acre of gross income a farmer can earn on poppy, according to the UN report.

The government efforts failed despite pressure from the United States, Western Europe, and other countries that fear a sharp rise in the supply of heroin. Only relatively small patches of opium in several regions of Afghanistan were destroyed.

The great bulk of heroin produced from Afghan opium is used by addicts in Europe. The British government, in particular, has pressured Karzai to crack down, as did President Mohammad Khatami of Iran on his visit to Kabul last week. Iran has an estimated 2 million opium and heroin addicts.

The UN poppy forecast came in a section of a joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN World Food Program assessing Afghan crops and food supplies.

The Afghan Interim Administration banned opium production in January 2002, but by then most opium fields were already sown, the report said. The subsequent Poppy Eradication Program largely failed to achieve its objectives.

It estimated that 225,000 acres of poppy were planted, and 150,000 to 175,000 acres have been or will be harvested. The government program had a very limited impact, Maletta said at a news briefing, and eradication is only a transient thing. It can be replanted.

The Taliban prohibition had driven up prices for Afghan opium to about $500 a pound, and the farm gate price remains relatively high, Maletta said, at $160 to $180 a pound. Farmers can produce some 35 pounds per acre of opium, a gum squeezed and scraped from the flower pods.

The move back into poppy cultivation, which in recent years has supported tens of thousands of Afghan farmers and farm laborers, has hurt the domestic food supply, the UN report said. It said poppy is estimated to have reduced the area of irrigated wheat by about 10 percent.

Karzai, at a antidrug conference in Kabul, reiterated his governments commitment to eradicating poppy. We are determined, like hell, to fight the cultivation of poppy, he said.

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