October 19, 2011:
Afghan poppy farmers are getting over 40 percent more money this year, for the opium they produce (by scraping the latex from the poppy seed pods). All this is the result of a poppy plant disease that swept across Afghanistan last year and destroyed about half the crop. As a result, by the end of the year, farmers were getting 36 percent more for those poppy crops that survived. The poppy disease has caused great loss for about 100,000 farming families. This, however, is a small portion of the Afghan farming population. In fact, the opium and heroin produced from those poppies brings wealth to only about seven percent of Afghans, and misery and violence to the rest. But for the poppy farmers, times are good.
Farmers knew that the shortage would create more demand, and higher prices, this year, and the area planted with poppies increased about six percent. The drought conditions of last year were eased by heavier rains, and the crop disease abated. So yield per hectare (2.5 acres) increased by over 50 percent. This should have saturated the market, but it didn't. That's because NATO raids on drug gang operations destroyed tons of opium and refined heroin in the last year. The gangs had customers demanding product, so, despite the much larger supply, the price farmers got for their opium still went up over 40 percent. Income for poppy farmers has more than doubled.
Nearly all (about 80 percent) of these poppies are grown in two provinces; Kandahar and Helmand. Most of the rest are grown to the west, near the Iranian border. Most of this crop is smuggled into Iran, where opium and heroin addiction is a growing problem. The opium trade represents nearly ten percent of Afghanistan's GDP. Isn't the market economy wonderful?
Production and distribution of these drugs is a major cause of unrest and corruption worldwide, with drug use a major public health problem as well. In response to that, NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan have put more emphasis on fighting the drug gangs. While the Taliban run their own terror campaign, to regain political control of the country, they do so mainly because they are subsidized by the drug gangs. The Taliban provide protection, as much as they can, for the poppy growing, heroin production (by refining the opium) and smuggling most of the drugs out of the country. Without the heroin (most of the world production), the Taliban would be much weaker, and the majority of Afghans much happier.
Afghanistan produces 80 percent of the world's heroin. Noting the increased popularity of heroin, more of it is coming out of the traditional big producers in the Golden Triangle (Myanmar/Burma), as well as new producers in Mexico and Colombia.