The United Nations's Opium Survey 2009, published last week, fills in some of the gaps found in the Summary Findings, published in September. It confirms that opium cultivation in Afghanistan decreased by 22 per cent, while production fell by 10 per cent to 6,900 tons.
The number of people involved in opium production, at 1.6 million, is a drop of one third since the previous year and the number of poppy-free provinces is up from 18 to 20 (out of 34).
New information includes the fact that the potential gross export value of Afghanistan's opiates is down 18 per cent, from $3.4 bn in 2008 to $2.8 bn this year. Opium now accounts for around a quarter of Afghanistan's GDP, compared to a third last year.
Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, makes a personal plea to President Karzai in the report: "For the sake of a viable future, the Afghan government must regain control over the main opium growing regions, bring major drug traffickers to justice, and promote more honest government."
The survey produces some interesting information. Part of the reason for the fall-off in cultivation is the low prices opium is fetching, due to a glut. In 2009 the ratio between gross income from opium and gross income from wheat was 3:1. The ratio between the net income from opium and wheat was even smaller, at 2:1. Compare this figure to 2003, when farmers could earn 27 times more gross income per hectare of opium than per hectare of wheat.