Opium production currently accounts for four percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. Since 2012, poppy cultivation has increased 36 percent thanks to high prices and fears about future political instability as international forces plan to leave and a national election looms in 2014. 

According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total farm gate value of opium production is $950 million this year, up 31 percent from 2012.

A major reason for the increase could be the 2012 price – a record high of $163 per kilogram for fresh opium at harvest time. This year, the price has dropped to just $143.

The Afghani, the most commonly used currency in opium transactions, has devalued against the dollar by 10 percent this year.

Nearly two thirds of farmers polled said that high price points were the motivation for cultivating opium.

“High income from little land, improving living conditions, and the provision of basic food and shelter for the family were other important reasons cited by farmers,” the report says.

Beyond economics, more farmers are choosing to grow opium “to try and hedge against the country’s uncertain political future,” the report reads.

The possibility of international troops leaving the country within months plus controversy surrounding the upcoming presidential election to take place next year has made farmers wary about their future.

“The link between insecurity and opium cultivation observed in the country since 2007 continued to exist in 2013,” the report reads.

Currently, poppy cultivation amounts to some 209,000 hectares in the country – concentrated mostly in the unstable southern and western provinces dominated by insurgency and organized criminal networks.

In Nimroz, a southern province, production increased 327 percent since last year.

In 2013, 89 percent of total opium cultivation took place in Southern and Western regions, which are the most insecure and classified as “high” or “extreme” security risk by the UN.

Poppy eradication efforts by local governors were down by 24 percent since last year, but security incidents have risen.

A total of 143 people were reportedly killed during eradication campaigns this year, up from just 102 in 2012.