Confessions of an opium grower

Afghanistan opium poppy cultivation reached a record high in 2013, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 

UNODC estimates that farmers planted and harvested around 400,000 acres of the plant that is transformed into heroin (and other opiates). That is up from 300,000 acres of cultivated land from the year before. The street value of the 2013 crop equals roughly $950 million -- or four percent of Afghanistan's GDP. 

The United Nations has long linked the country's poppy cultivation with its security and economic issues. "Almost all villages with very poor security and most villages with poor security were cultivating poppy," according to the group's 2013 Afghanistan Opium Risk Assessment (pdf).  "In other words, villages in insecure areas had a high probability of cultivating poppy, and villages in areas with good security were less likely to have poppy cultivation."

That report also contained the results of more than 2,500 interviews with farmers who continue to grow the drug and those who have left the poppy market. 

For those who grow poppy, the reasons are mainly economic:   

“High sales price of opium” was the predominant reason (66%) given for growing opium (71% in 2012). Indeed, opium prices, albeit lower than in 2010 and 2011, were still at a much higher level than between 2005 and 2009 making opium cultivation financially very attractive for farmers. 10% respondent mentioned the lack of government support and slightly fewer cited ‘poverty’ and ‘high income from little land’ as the most dominant reason.

Afghanistan's government eradicated nearly 20,000 acres of poppy in 2012, 2.5 times the amount from the year before, per the UNODC report. Nearly half the farmers who left poppy cultivation in 2012 said they did so because of 'fear of eradication.' Others also claimed that growing the plant was "against Islam" and "Elders and Shura decision." 

Photo by afgooey74