An opium poppy field in Afghanistan
One of the few ways to make much of a living in Afghanistan is to grow opium poppies. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Afghanistan was never a very rich place before the U.S. invasion, and the country may never fully recover. One of the most consistent employment opportunities for Afghans is still growing poppies to supply the opium trade.

Home of opium trade despite ravages of war

There are few opportunities for many Afghans to make much of a living. One of the few trades a person can make a decent living at in Afghanistan is growing poppies for the heroin trade. In 2006, according to the Washington Post, 90 percent of the world’s opium came from Afghanistan. The opium trade was then a $2.6 billion per year industry in Afghanistan, one-third of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product.

According to a 2010 New York Times article, Afghans earn several times more from an acre of poppies than they can from an acre of wheat. One farmer received $500 per acre of opium poppies when the harvest concluded. The Taliban only taxed 10 percent of his earnings.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently released the “2011 Afghan Opium Survey,” finding that 17 Afghan provinces produce opium, according to MSNBC. Afghanistan has 34 provinces.

Back with a vengeance

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, efforts to reduce Afghan opium production after 2006 had some success. International aid organizations and military forces from various countries were able to convince some provinces to go poppy-free.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted that 20 of the 34 Afghan provinces were “poppy-free zones,” compared to 13 in 2006. The UNODC reported that year that poppy production had fallen by 22 percent. Poppy blights in 2009 and 2010 also contributed to the decline.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, opium production is back in a big way in 2011. The United Nations recently issued the annual United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime survey, which found that opium production in Afghanistan had increased by 61 percent. This year’s harvest produced revenues of $1.4 billion.

The amount of land devoted to poppy growing increased by 7 percent overall. In areas that had previously been poppy-free, 65 percent more land was devoted to poppy growing.

Desolated nation

An Afghan farmer told MSNBC he had tried growing other crops, such as saffron, when he was promised equipment and financial aid to grow anything besides poppies. However, the aid and equipment never materialized, and all he was left with was a series of unprofitable saffron harvests and he had no choice but to grow poppies.

Despite nearly $300 billion having been invested in Afghanistan by various organizations and governments for humanitarian purposes including eradicating the poppy trade, most Afghans live on $1 a day, or less.

The opium trade isn’t even confined to the Taliban. According to the Christian Science Monitor, opium is just one revenue stream for the Taliban. The 2010 poppy blight was not projected at the time to have much of an effect.

Sources

MSNBC: http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/13/8304833-afghan-farmer-i-tried-but-have-to-grow-poppies-to-survive

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/01/AR2006120101654.html

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/world/asia/21marja.html?pagewanted=all

Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/afghanistan/good-bad-news-afghan-opium/p21372

Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204450804576625003263984480.html

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2010/0930/Afghanistan-opium-crop-blight-sends-drug-prices-soaring

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