It is well known that one of the main challenge that UNPBC (UN Peacebuilding Commission)  has to tackle in Afghanistan is the struggle against opiates, in order to develop economic stability and promote peacebuilding.

In fact, even if, according to the 2015 UNODC Afghanistan opium survey , poppy production is slightly decreasing, Afghanistan is still one of the greatest illicit opium producers, followed by Burma and Latin America.

Afghanistan  began to grow opium poppy in 1979, when the USSR invaded the country.

An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad province
An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad province April 17, 2014. Afghanistan is the world’s top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced. Despite more than a decade of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency, poppy expanded to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres) in 2013, up 36 percent from the previous year.

Before that, the Afghan economy was based on agriculture and the most important products were wheat and several types of grains. Many lands were destined for  opium plantations and between 1981 and 1990 the production grew from 250 tons to 2,000.

Nonetheless, even after the Soviet invasion, since producing opium was very profitable, the mujahideen fighters  fostered the people to continue to grow it by establishing an “ opium tax” and creating dozens laboratories for  heroin refinement.  Growing opium was particularly fruitful during the civil war broken out in 1992 since a large part of the proceeds was used to finance the fights.

With the rise of the Taliban regime, opium cultivation was dramatically limited because Mullah Omar wanted to gain international approval, but after the 2001 events and the following USA invasion, the situation deteriorated again. In 2002 the opium production reached around 3,400 tons ( whereas in 2001 only 185 tons  had been produced).

pic-2Throughout these years, starting from 2001, the USA and the UK have been trying to manage “the opium problem”  by adopting strategies that have turned out to be disastrous. So, the poppy plantations are still the only source of subsistence for Afghan people. This could be better understood if we consider that it is possible to earn around 230 USD per kilo ( against 0,43 cents earned from one kilo of wheat).

This situation is very well explained by an afghan farmer who was interviewed by Eurasia, an Italian  review of Geopolitics, “ They [ the USA and its allies] told us they would give us alternatives, build bridges for us, but they didn’t keep their promises. But people are impoverished and costs are rising every day”.

In 2014, a UNODC survey claimed that the total area destined to the poppy cultivation was estimated at 224,000 hectares. In comparison with 2013, there had been a 7% increase.  The most cultivated areas were  located in the South ( 67 % of the total production) and in the West ( 22 % of the total production). The number of poppy-free regions remained stable ( 15 as in 2013). The total potential opium production was estimated to be at 6,400 tons.pic-3

As mentioned before, in 2015 poppy cultivation decreased by 19%: in fact, the number of hectares destined to such cultivation is now at 183,000. Since 2009 it is the first time that a reduction has been observed.  However, there is one less poppy free province in comparison with 2014 ( from 15 to 14).

In conclusion, it is clear that there is still much work to be done. The opium problem will not easily resolved, also because, as said before, most of the Afghan people are dependent  on it , as they consider it the only “ life line” from absolute poverty.

Martina Scarnato


  1. UN news Centre – After six years on the rise, Afghan opium crop cultivation declines: new UNODC survey ( 14 October 2015).
  2. “ The deadly blooms of Helmond: Afghan farmers turn to the opium crop, despite the police’s best efforts” – The Independent
  3. UNODC Afghanistan opium survey 2014
  4. UNODC Afghanistan opium survey 2015
  5. “ L’Afghanistan è il Paese che produce attualmente quasi il 93% dell’oppio reperibile nel mercato mondiale” – Eurasia