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Afghanistan's Opium Farmers Do a Roaring Trade

A UN report reveals that both prices and productivity rose in 2011.

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An Afghan opium farmer tends his crop.
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By Will Godfrey

01/12/12

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A newly-released report estimates that total "farm gate" revenue from opium—what people who grow the crop actually make—rose an astonishing 133% in Afghanistan in 2011. This is because both the total quantity of poppies cultivated and the price of opium have risen. Although poppy eradication was up a seemingly impressive 65%—eliminating 3,810 hectares compared to 2010's 2,316 ha—this made only a slight dent on total net cultivation, which rose from 123,000 to 131,000 ha. Meanwhile, the estimated average farm-gate price of dry opium climbed 43%, from $169 to $241 per kilo, with per hectare gross income reaching $70,000, the highest since 2003. This is surprising. Opium prices surged in 2010, due to plant disease causing a scarcity of supply, but they weren't expected to keep rising so fast. And, if any further incentive were needed for Afghan farmers to cultivate lucrative poppies, prices for wheat, the main alternative crop, fell; net opium income per hectare is now eight times that of wheat. The report was produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghanistan Ministry of Counter Narcotics. Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's opium. 2011's figures will throw greater emphasis on counter narcotics measures, and on efforts to find alternative livelihoods for opium farmers.

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