Afghanistan: Taliban eradicate ‘opium of the people’

The poppy harvest and opium production have fallen by 95% in Afghanistan since the government banned the cultivation. Taliban. In April 2022, upon returning to power, the Taliban banned the cultivation of opium and heroin.

This is good news for the international community: between 80% and 90% of the world’s heroin and opium comes from Afghanistan. But not for Afghan farmers who will experience extremely negative consequences.

“Today, the Afghan population urgently needs humanitarian aid (…) to absorb the shock of the loss of income and save lives.” said Ghada Walydirector-general of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in a report released today.

Producer revenue, estimated at $1.36 billion in 2022, collapsed 92% to $110 million this year.

The Afghan economy, already in a catastrophic state, is severely affected by these losses. Last year, the poppy accounted for almost a third of Afghanistan’s agricultural output, of which it is the world’s top producer.

Poppy production has been eliminated in 24 of the country’s 44 provinces, according to satellite images analyzed by the UN.

The drop in poppy production also has the effect of increasing the production of synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine, which is currently being exploited among Afghans with a very high rate of drug addiction, UNODC warns.

Opium funded the Taliban

It is not the first time that the Taliban authorities have banned poppy cultivation. They had already done it in 2000 a few months before their government was overthrown by the international coalition. During the 20 years of war that followed, the Taliban, despite their austere interpretation of Islam, taxed their culture and transportation heavily to fund their fight against the Washington-led coalition of which Ottawa was a part. According to the UN, in 2016 opium provided around half of the Taliban’s income.

During its intervention in Afghanistan, Canada tried to apply the so-called “3D” approach (development, diplomacy and defense) in Kandahar, the region under its responsibility, without being able to significantly reduce poppy production.

In 2021, revenue related to the drug market amounted to approximately $2 billion, with the Taliban receiving about $400 million, according to theUNODC.

Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

Officially, the Taliban government justifies the ban on religious grounds: it wants to create a society consistent with its fundamentalist Islamist ideology.

But waging a “war on drugs” after decades of profiting from them is particularly egregious.

According to the UNODC, 3.4 million Afghans, or almost 10% of the population, use drugs to try to escape despair, including 1.4 million who use opium and heroin.

The government in Kabul no doubt hopes that its draconian decision will lead the international community to resume its humanitarian and development aid to support agricultural workers and smallholders in their conversion to other crops. The former ambassador of the European Union in Kabul, Jean-François Cautainhe thinks that this ban could also be a strong element in the context of the negotiations for the recognition of the regime.