Opium production is up 87 percent in Afghanistan this year to a record level of 9000 tons, 4200 tons more than 2016, according to recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC.
“It is high time for the international community and Afghanistan to reprioritize drug control, and to acknowledge that every nation has a shared responsibility for this global problem,” UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said at the launch of today’s report.
Opium production is one of the main staples of finance for Taliban operations in Afghanistan. The report is bad news for the Afghan government where it continues to struggle against a resurgent Taliban force.
According to a recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, Afghan forces lost more ground to the Taliban in the last several months, ceding control of nearly 9 districts to the militant group.
The record opium production is likely to continue to fund more bloodshed in Afghanistan.
“The significant levels of opium poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates will probably further fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” the report reads. “More high quality, low cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world, with increased consumption and related harms as a likely consequence.”
The main driver of increased opium cultivation is more land is being used to plant poppy crops, according to the UNODC report.
“In Helmand province alone, cultivation increased by 63,700 hectares (+79%) which accounted for about half of the total national increase. Strong increases were observed also in Balkh (+10,000 hectares or almost five times more than in 2016), Kandahar (+7,500 hectares or +37%), Nimroz (+6,200 hectares or +116%), and Uruzgan (+6,000 hectares or +39%),” the report reads.
The southern region of Afghanistan accounted for 57 percent of the opium production in Afghanistan, far more than any other region. The northern region of Afghanistan produced roughly 16 percent of the opium and was the second-highest producer in Afghanistan.
The increased production in Afghanistan might be a result of territory gained by Taliban militants. As the report indicated, Helmand Valley increased its cultivation by nearly 79 percent.
“Some estimates project 80 percent of Helmand Province is now controlled by the Taliban Province that supplies the Taliban with approximately 60 percent of their funding,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said to Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in February.
Moreover, the report highlights the failure of the U.S. counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has spent nearly $8.6 billion in interdicting and eradicating opium production in Afghanistan, according to recent SIGAR estimates.
Despite U.S. efforts, cultivation of poppy has steadily increased in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
To add insult to injury, this year, the Afghan government managed to eradicate 750 hectares of poppy, a 111 percent increase from last year, but the country still witnessed record opium production despite best efforts.
“Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80% of the world’s opium,” the latest SIGAR report reads.
This year’s opium production equates to 7 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated GDP, or $1.39 billion, according to UNDOC.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.