In Afghanistan, the Taliban ban on poppy cultivation drives opium prices up

On October 23, 2022, a Taliban fighter inspects documents at a checkpoint in Kabul. WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

As the world’s largest opium producer, Taliban Afghanistan opposes the cultivation and trade of poppies. A decision that clashes with the reality of a bloodless economy.

Haro on opium cultivation, but at what cost? Since taking power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have said they want to fight drugs, for religious reasons. It was done in April 2022, when the leader of the Taliban Habitullah Akhunzada announced a ban on the production, processing and trafficking of opium in Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban are under fire from the criticisms of the UN, which in a note published on November 1, 2022 accuses them of a direct link between their acquisition in August 2021 and the sharp increase in the cultivation of opium poppy, an essential pillar of a battered Afghan economy.

29% of the agricultural value of the country

Following the Taliban ban in April 2022, a two-month grace period was nevertheless adopted, to allow farmers to reap the profits from their about to start opium harvest. Producers then push prices up, worried about upcoming restrictions, and opium then goes from $ 116 in March 2022 to $ 203 per kilogram just a month later. As a result, the 2022 poppy crop is the most profitable in recent years, accounting for 29% of the country’s total agricultural value, up from 9% the previous year. And this without counting all the revenues from production and monitoring, since “increasing sums are accumulated along the illicit drug supply chain outside the country“.

By comparison, the per capita annual income of the legal economy has plummeted for a year, with a decline ranging from -14 to -28.5% depending on the sector. At the same time, since the Taliban came to power in August 2021, the area dedicated to opium cultivation has increased by 32%, or 56,000 hectares compared to the previous year, the UN specifies. This lucrative business employs hundreds of thousands of workers and gives Afghanistan a virtual monopoly on world opium.

Since the Soviets entered Afghan territory in 1979, there has been an almost continuous increase in the area dedicated to this production in the country.», Explains Pierre Micheletti, president of Action Against Hunger. Only 12% of the mountainous and barren land in Afghanistan is arable “,and 6% of this area is used for the cultivation of opium“.

A considerable economic weight that can be explained by various factors. The first is historical and dates back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989, the production of opium allowed the purchase of weapons and irrigation of the anti-communist movements of the mujahideen“The second is practical: poppy cultivation is an alternative to poverty, which significantly increases the income of workers compared to traditional food crops. In short, it is aadaptive response to the impoverishment of peasants“Especially since poppy is more resistant to global warming than some food crops.

hunger or gallows

The problem is all the more thorny as Afghanistan has recently gone from being a poppy producer and exporter to a drug producer, with much juicier profits for farmers. The latter are now working to produce synthetic drugs. As a result, Afghanistan now supplies 80% of the world’s opioid demand. And the Afghans begin to consume it. “These are mainly precarious populations in urban areas», Underlines Pierre Micheletti, who affirms that today 7% of the Afghan population would be a fan of it. “Even the poor can get hold of them by begging: narcotics are more than cheap in the country …

In fact, banning the production and sale of opium would be tantamount to cutting the food supply to most of the Afghans who live in it, which explains this decision to ban stand-by: “the Taliban do not want to alienate the population“. Furthermore, to make the picture even more gloomy, the considerable income generated by the production and sale of opium does not translate into an increase in purchasing power, recalls the UN.”Over the same period, inflation has soared and food prices have risen by an average of 35%“? In Afghanistan, 90% of the population earns just two dollars a day. Farmers must then decide in early November whether to plant opium poppy for next year, thereby risking the Taliban’s Sharia-based punishment, or decide not to plant and risk starvation.

A vital decision, while the increase in the areas dedicated to the cultivation of poppies translates in practice into a reduction in the land dedicated to food crops of primary importance, such as wheat. “And this is the crux of the problem», Pierre Micheletti points out. “Afghanistan is a narco-state. But as long as farmers aren’t offered profitable substitute crops, banning opium opens the door to widespread famine in the country.“.

Observations corroborated by Ghada Waly, Executive Director of UNODC, who states that the peasants are “trapped in the illicit opiate economy“. This observation is denied by the head of the Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar.”We reject the UN conclusionshe told CBS on November 1. “Poppy cultivation is now totally prohibited in our country“The title of the world’s leading poppy producer crowning Afghanistan today tells a different story.

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