The Afghan Narcotics Industry: Extended Summary
November 13, 2009
Afghanistan has greatly increased its production of opium since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2001 the national production of opium was negligible; however following 2001 it grew exponentially until it reached its peak in 2007, producing quantities of opium that far exceeded the production levels of the past three decades. Some estimates indicate that there has been a decline in production levels of over 1,000 tons since 2001, however opium production still remains high and continues to be a serious security factor in the equation of winning the peace in Afghanistan.
The production of opium is outlawed by the government of Afghanistan, and though this law has been respected in many parts of the country which have seen a decline in opium production since 2002, there have been other regions of the country that have significantly increased their production. While some regions respect the central Afghan government’s authority, other areas see opium production not just as a means to make money but also to fund anti-Afghan government/US/NATO/ISAF groups and to actively disrespect and delegitimize the authority of the central government.
There are positive economic signs in Afghanistan. The economy has expanded by increasing percentage points every year since 2002 except for 2006 in which it only expanded at a rate of 9%, some years saw over a 20% increase in GDP. Production of opium is declining since the highs of 2007 and the farm gate price of opium has decreased by 81% since 2002.
However there are other troubling metrics that suggest that while the economic and narcotics situation in Afghanistan may be improving, there are still areas: mainly the south (and some parts of the west) where the situation is significantly worse since the invasion and though now improving, are still at astonishingly high levels of production of opium, violence, and corruption.
The south, in particular Helmand province, is a hot bed of narcotics production in both Afghanistan and the world. Since 2002 almost every other region of Afghanistan has eliminated hectares of poppy fields, but Helmand province has added hectares with an increase of 63,794 hectares since 2002, an increase of 163%. Around 44% of the opium produced between 2002 and 2009 originated in Helmand and 54% of the national farm gate income between 2002 and 2008 is from Southern Afghanistan.
Perhaps most troubling are the statistics that 40% of family income in the south comes from opium production and that 88% of those polled in Helmand province in February of 2009 said it was acceptable to harvest opium. Helmand continues to be one of the most dangerous and violent provinces in Afghanistan.
Opium production in Afghanistan though currently on a downward trend remains a pressing issue in establishing a stable nation. Opium production funds insurgent groups, serves as a testament to the impotence of the Afghan central government, and fosters corruption which is one of the most pressing problems in establishing effective governance. Afghanistan currently ranks as the most corrupt nation in the entire region.
Ultimately, extinguishing poppy production will be difficult as long as the average income of an Afghan farmer who grows legal crops makes less than half of what an opium farmer makes as is the case now. Furthermore, as long as the central government of Afghanistan is unable to establish a rule of law, protect the population, and effectively govern, Afghans will seek the protection of groups such as the Taliban who will continue to control swathes of the country and encourage opium production as a means for producing money for the insurgency and destabilizing the region.