Illegal opium crops in Afghanistan have declined significantly as a result of “more aggressive” efforts by U.S. and NATO forces, according to an annual study by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, USA Today reported Sept. 2.
For the second year in a row, the amount of land used to grow opium has decreased, the U.N. said. The 2009 harvest fell by 22 percent and a third of Afghanistan is just about free from opium, according to the study.
The study suggests the decrease was due to “an effective mix of sticks and carrots,” which included the U.S. program to provide Afghan farmers with free seeds and fertilizer to encourage them to grow wheat instead of opium. A crackdown on drug trafficking and the decreased price of opium also helped, the U.N. said.
However, while there was a 22-percent decrease in the amount of land used to grow poppies, overall the amount of opium produced decreased by only 10 percent, allowing producers to profit even more from the remaining crops, the report said.
Doug Wankel, who served as an anti-narcotics coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said the drop in opium production may not have an immediate effect on the Taliban’s profits. According to the report, drug smugglers have 10,000 tons of opium tucked away, which would be enough to meet the worldwide demand for heroin for two years.
“That’s where the real money is,” said Wankel.