Record Levels of Afghan Opium Production
Part of the U.S. war in Afghanistan has been centered on eradicating opium production and distribution in the war torn nation. Billions of dollars have been invested by the U.S. to achieve this end.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has objectively failed on all counts to realize this goal. Just this past year, Afghan opium was produced at record levels despite a hefty U.S. investment of $7 billion dollars.

Currently, the opium trade composes 15 percent of the Afghan economy. Its heroin production, derived from opium, accounts for over 75 percent of the entire world’s supply.

The prospects of significantly reducing poppy cultivation in Afghanistan seem slim at best due to its embedded nature within the culture as well as the extreme poverty most Afghans live in. The lucrative prices opium sells for can provide a decent living for Afghan families struggling to get by.

For example, just one kilogram of opium can sell for up to $200. This is significantly more money compared to the paltry 41 cents per kilogram one gets for selling wheat.

NPR profiled one farmer who makes $9,000 per year by producing 150 lbs of opium. No other opportunity in Afghanistan provides a comparable income.

Previous measures implemented by the Afghan government have been aimed at providing disincentives for farmers who desire to enter the drug trade. But, resources have become scarce in recent years, forcing the programs to be shuttered.

In one such program, the Afghan government subsidized alternative crops such as cotton. The subsidies inflated the price, making the move away from poppies more palatable for Afghan farmers.

The international community also attempted to provide disincentives by shipping seeds and fertilizer to farmers, but the program in no longer being implemented. Absent these programs, farmers simply return to the lucrative poppy trade.

One of the most disturbing consequences from the ubiquity of opium in the country is the presence of addicts in staggering numbers. Out of the total population of 35 million people, one million are currently addicted.

The treatment capacity to provide for these addicts is extremely limited. The government only has the ability to treat 20,000 people at any one time. Availability for treatment is limited depending on one’s location in the country.

Also, the ease at which one can obtain drugs in Afghanistan only adds to the problem. For instance, in Kabul, the price for heroin only amounts to $6 and to many is as easy to obtain as food.

The major security implications for the sale of these drugs lie with who directly benefits from the profits, namely the Taliban forces. The UK Daily Mail reports that in 2011 the Taliban is estimated to have earned up to $700 million dollars from the sale of opium and heroin.

The strategic importance of eliminating the opium trade in Afghanistan was typified by a comment made by former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, David Holbrooke. Holbrooke stated, “Breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential, or all else will fail.”

With the inevitable troop draw down coupled with the uncertain status of a residual counterterrorism force to stay behind post-2014 — the possibility of making major headways toward eradicating the Afghan drug trade is nonexistent.

Zachary Lindberg

Sources: NBC News, Daily Mail, NPR, Christian Science Monitor
Photo: GAIFF

Opium is a narcotic, or an opioid. It is a white liquid made from the poppy plant, and is smoked in order to create euphoria. This is an addicting drug that can lead to physical dependence. Myanmar is the second-largest opium producer in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is located in Southeast Asia, and is bordered by China, India, Laos, Bangladesh, and Thailand. In a region known as “Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle” at the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, is notorious for its abundance of drugs and opium production through multiple poppy fields. This is one of the world’s primary sources of heroin, and the Myanmar government wishes to eliminate this opium production. Myanmar has been fighting opium within its borders for years, with little success. However, a new opium elimination program was recently created in order to tackle opium.

There was a peace initiative recently implemented in Shan State, which is the eastern part of Myanmar, which may end up helping the eradication of opium and poppies. The country manager of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Myanmar, or UNODC, Jason Eligh, detailed the plan to reporters. Basically, the plan is to help farmers wean themselves off of poppy in areas that are rebel-controlled. This will be done in order to gain trust and to help those opium producers find other ways to succeed, without having to turn to illegal means. The first step of this plan is to let survey staff enter Shan State, which grows 90% of the country’s poppies.

The plan was created under a partnership between the government of Myanmar and the military of Myanmar. Over the past few years, the growth rate of the poppy plant has increased, despite governmental attempts to lower it. Therefore, a new strategy was necessary in order to fight the growth of this plant. The government of Myanmar has partnered with the Restoration Council of Shan State, or RCSS, which has wanted independence for the past half century, but recently signed a ceasefire with the government in 2011. There are peace talks occurring at this time, and included in those peace talks is a promise to help farmers that are in poverty to have alternative development programmes, which would bring them away from the cultivation of poppy plants, or the temptation to grow them.

The plan to turn farmers to development programmes will occur from 2014 to 2017, and it is a multimillion dollar promise. The overall aim will be to help the infrastructure of Myanmar, as well as improve health and education. Still, a main component of the plan is crop substitution of the poppy plants, in order to raise citizens out of poverty and out of criminal activity. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, wishes to make Myanmar drug free by 2015. The Minister of Home Affairs, Lt-Gen Ko Ko, said that alternative development is the solution to the drug culture in Myanmar, and asked for international support, as well as international donors in order to help fund the project.

Overall, the situation in Myanmar is stressful and still a bit tense, but if this plan is enacted properly, it is entirely possible that there will be less or no opium production in Myanmar, and many farmers will be raised out of poverty and criminal activity.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: The Jakarta Globe, IRIN News, DVB
Photo: The Telegraph

Tijikastan_heroinEvery year, $33 billion worth of heroin is funneled into Russia and Western Europe from a few provinces in southern Afghanistan. This robust heroin trade in the countries of the former Soviet Union thrives in part because of the terrible economic conditions precipitated by the fall of the USSR. In this volatile economic environment, organized crime groups have flourished, facilitating a heroin trade that has seriously harmed nations in Central Asia, particularly Tajikistan.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2012 World Drug report, heroin is “the illicit drug most highly associated with a single source” with “90% of the world’s heroin coming from opium grown in just a few provinces in Afghanistan.”

Since 2006, Afghanistan has produced more than 12,000 tons of opium, which the UNODC amounts to two years’ worth of the global demand. It is very clear that drug lords in Afghanistan are making a lot of money through the production and export of heroin. There is also evidence suggesting that terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are reaping benefits of the trade as well.

Unfortunately, this illicit drug trade has affected the people of nations outside of Afghanistan’s borders. According to the UNODC, Tajikistan has suffered immensely because of its position on the Northern trade route that transports heroin to Russia. Heroin dependency has devastated the Tajik population and has resulted in the spread of lethal diseases such as HIV and hepatitis-C. In addition, the position of Tajikistan along a primary drug trade route has promoted the rise of organized crime groups and warlords in the fledgling nation.

In Tajikistan, the direct influence of Afghan heroin can be witnessed in its purest form. In a nation economically ruined by the demise of the Soviet Union, a single substance has threatened not only the social fabric of the society but also the entire governmental structure of the newly independent nation. Tajikistan illustrates the way in which the illicit trade of heroin has devastated Central Asia. The people of Tajikistan have all been affected by the adverse consequences of heroin addiction and the diseases that so often accompany intravenous drug abuse. In addition to addiction and disease, the very framework of the state in Tajikistan is threatened by warlords who have grown fat on the profits of the drug. As criminals get richer, however, Tajikistan’s people, especially its poor, are left even more vulnerable to violence and political instability.

– Josh Forgét

Source: UNODC World Drug Report 2012,Johan Engvall
Photo: RFERL