Kabul, May 4 (EFE).- Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the largest producer of the intoxicant worldwide, grew 37 percent in 2020 to 224,000 hectares, marking one of the largest cultivated areas in the last decades, the United Nations and the Afghanistan said on Tuesday.
“The total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was approximately 224,000 hectares in 2020, which is an increase of 37 percent or 61,000 hectares when compared to 2019,” Kabul and the UN said in a joint statement.
The study estimated the potential opium production over the past year to be around 6,300 tons, one of the highest figures in the last 24 years.
The southwestern Helmand province continues to be the largest producer of poppy in the country, with crops spread over 115,597 hectares or over half of the of the total area.
Moreover, out of the 34 Afghan provinces, the number of poppy-free provinces dropped from 13 to 12 in 2020, after the northeastern Kapisa lost its poppy-free status.
The farm-gate value of the produced opium was estimated to be around $350 million, an important indicator of the farmers’ income.
At $55 per kilogram, farm-gate prices were at their lowest since the data started being compiled, which shows that poverty among the producers may have worsened.
Political instability, scarcity of job opportunities, lack of quality education and limited access to markets are some of the biggest factors driving poppy farming among poor Afghan farmers.
However, poppy cultivation is not just a local problem. After being turned into heroin, its consumption also affects neighboring countries and the West, with Europe being the main market for the substance produced in Afghanistan, according to the report.
In March, the UN sought more international support for Afghanistan, which is facing increased risks to its stability due to the lack of progress in controlling illegal opium production – the country accounts for 84 percent of the global illegal cultivation – which serves as a continuous source of income for the Taliban insurgency and terrorism. EFE