DUSHANBE, January 26, 2012, Asia-Plus – Increase in cultivation and production of opium in Afghanistan gives cause for serious concern, Yuri Chekalov, the deputy head of the information and analytical department of the Drug Control Agency (DCA) under the President of Tajikistan, told reporters in Dushanbe on January 25.

Chekalov noted that according to the Afghan Opium Survey for 2011, released by the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics of Afghanistan the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on January 12, around 90 per cent of the world''s opium comes from Afghanistan. The amount of opium produced increased by 61 per cent, from 3,600 metric tons in 2010 to 5,800 metric tons in 2011.

The area of land used for opium poppy cultivation in 2011 was 131,000 hectares, 7 per cent higher than in 2010, the DCA representative noted.

About 95 percent of poppy growth was concentrated in the south and west, Afghanistan’s most insecure regions.  Meanwhile, compared to 2010 poppy cultivation in the northern province of Badakhshan that borders Tajikistan rose 55 percent last year, reaching 1,705 hectares, which is 1.3 percent of poppy growth in Afghanistan.

According to the survey, the farm-gate income generated by opium probably amounted to 1.4 billion U.S. dollars, equivalent to 9 per cent of the GDP of Afghanistan in 2011.

Even more striking is the potential income derived from opium production. Export earnings from Afghan opiates may be worth $2.4 billion - equivalent to 15 per cent of GDP. Such vast sums cannot easily be earned in other ways.

Almost 60 per cent of farmers surveyed in 2011 said that they were motivated primarily by the high prices fetched by opium poppy cultivation, which will continue to remain attractive if it reaps bumper profits, according to the survey.  Compounding the problem was a simultaneous drop in the price of wheat.  In 2011, the gross income from opium was 11 times higher than that from wheat, the biggest difference in income since 2003.