Afghanistan: Opium yields at all-time high

Despite over $7.6 billion in expenditures by the United States to prevent opium cultivation in Afghanistan, crop yields have risen to their highest levels during the harvest this year. Cultivation of the poppy is a “significant” source of revenue for local Taliban groups, according to the new report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. An “unprecedented” 209,000 hectares was harvested this year, according to the report’s author, John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. Afghanistan produces more than 80% of the world’s opium. The US Embassy in Kabul offered a rather lame response to the damning report, calling it “disappointing news,” and stating that the goal has been to help Afghans develop the ability to lead and manage a long-term counter-narcotics effort.

Financial estimates in the report reflect overall spending on these initiatives since 2002, and shows that initially there was a sharp decrease in poppy cultivation from 2007 to 2009 when the US increased troop presence to more than 50,000, and included counter narcotics operations as part of formal military operations. Poppy is favored over more traditional crop substitutes because of its price per kilo, and the fact that its economies of scale are far lower than wheat, barley, or cotton, the three cash crops that have been pushed by the US State Department as substitutes.

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