Opium production in Afghanistan for 2011 is likely to increase strongly in the north and north-east of the country, although overall cultivation for the entire country is expected to decrease slightly, according to the latest survey from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Cultivation in Badakhshan, Baghlan and Faryab provinces in the north of the country is likely to increase due to the present high prices for the drug. The two latter provinces were certified as poppy-free in 2010, so this is a setback. Both are likely to lose this status in 2011. Other provinces certified poppy-free in 2010 are likely to remain so.
In total 16 provinces are likely to remain poppy-free in 2011, with the remaining 18 provinces showing moderate to strong increases. Asked to explain the main reasons why farmers chose to grow opium rather than other crops, almost three-quarters answered that high prices was the main reason. Reasons for not growing opium were that it was banned by the government (38%), it was forbidden by Islam (30%) or fear of eradication (19%).
Only in eight per cent of surveyed villages - all of them in Baghlan - did farmers receive cash advances from 'external sources' for growing opium. In Baghlan, this meant 57 per cent of all poppy-growing villages. UNODC found a strong statistical linkage between villages that had not received governmental agricultural assistance and the growing of opium.
The price increase for opium has been dramatic over the last year, rising between February 2010 and March 2011 by 306 per cent for dry opium and 251 per cent for fresh opium. By comparison wheat prices increased by 31 per cent and maize by 42 per cent over the same period. Rice actually fell in price by one per cent.
The interesting question is whether or not the increase in cultivation in the north of the country is a tactic supported and encouraged by the Taliban. It receives much of its income from opium production and with this being curtailed in the south, it seems likely that it is connected to the 'external sources' providing funding for farmers in the north of the country.
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