Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high in 2013 despite years of American efforts to curb its production and trade, according to a new report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR. As of June 2014, the United States has spent nearly $7.6 billion to combat Afghan poppy cultivation, the report said.
Afghanistan produces more than 80 percent of the world's illicit opium, which reportedly helps fund the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The U.S. government blames poppy production for “undermining good governance and public health, subverting the legal economy, and fuelling corruption and insecurity.” According to the report, in 2013, the value of opium and its derivative products produced in Afghanistan stood at $3 billion, up from $2 billion in 2012.
“Poppy-growing provinces that were once declared ‘poppy free’ have seen a resurgence in cultivation. Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, considered a model for successful counterinsurgency and counternarcotics efforts and deemed ‘poppy free’ by the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) in 2008, saw a fourfold increase in opium poppy cultivation between 2012 and 2013,” according to the report.
Citing the UNODC, the report said that Afghan farmers "grew an unprecedented 209,000 hectares of opium poppy in 2013, surpassing the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007." Between 2002 and 2013, the area under poppy cultivation increased by over 125,000 hectares, according to the report.
“With deteriorating security in many parts of rural Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014,” the report said.
Responding to the SIGAR report, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said that the increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is “disappointing news.”
“Essentially, poppy cultivation has shifted from areas where government presence is broadly supported and security has improved, toward more remote and isolated areas where governance is weak and security is inadequate,” Charles Randolph, a program coordinator at the embassy, said in a statement. “Only consistent and long-term application of a broad spectrum of programs, addressing both supply and demand, are likely to result in counternarcotics successes in Afghanistan.”