(Reuters) – Opium poppy production in Afghanistan, once the world’s largest supplier, has fallen sharply since the Taliban government banned drug cultivation last year, a United Nations report said on Sunday.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said opium cultivation across the country fell to just 10,800 hectares (26,700 acres) in 2023 from 233,000 hectares the previous year, representing a 95% drop in supply to 333 tons.
This is putting pressure on farmers in the war-torn country, where most people depend on agriculture and the value of poppy exports has at times exceeded the value of all officially exported goods, UNODC said.
The sharp decline could have serious consequences for the economy in a country where around two-thirds of the population already needs humanitarian assistance, the report said.
“Afghanistan urgently needs strong investment in sustainable livelihoods in the coming months to provide Afghan farmers with opportunities away from opium,” UNODC executive director Ghada Waly said in a statement.
“This represents a real opportunity to achieve long-term results against the illegal opium market and the damage it causes both locally and globally.”
The huge decline in supply from Afghanistan, which is estimated to supply around 80% of the world’s illicit opium, could ultimately lead to a decline in opium consumption internationally, but also risks a global escalation in the use of alternatives such as fentanyl or synthetic opioids, according to this the UNODC said.
The Taliban’s top spiritual leader banned the cultivation of narcotics in April 2022, and the Interior Ministry said it would destroy all remaining crops. Experts say the Taliban banned poppy cultivation during their previous rule in 2000 because they sought international legitimacy but faced popular backlash.
Many of the provinces where the Taliban have historically enjoyed high levels of support, such as South Helmand, have a large concentration of opium poppy cultivation. The UNODC said many farmers had switched to growing wheat, but it yielded significantly less than growing poppies.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by William Mallard)
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