KABUL – A campaign to destroy poppy farmlands in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province began on Tuesday as part of a nationwide drive against drug cultivation in the war-torn country which produces the largest amount of opium in the world.
Opium cultivation is widely believed to power the unending insurgency in Afghanistan, where production in 2017 went up 87 percent to 9,000 metric tons, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The campaign in Nangarhar started in Ghanikhel district where officials began destroying the poppy fields by driving tractors over them, and slashing at them with sticks.
“The effort will continue until all poppy lands are destroyed in the district,” district police chief Babakarkhail told EFE.
The drive began as poppy plants had started blossoming and farmers were only a week or two away from collecting raw opium gum.
“This year, we have poppy cultivated in nearly 13 of the 22 districts of Nangarhar,” Idrees Safai, Nangarhar’s Provincial Counter Narcotics Director, told EFE.
“The eradication campaign will be carried out in all government-controlled areas of these 13 districts,” he said.
He said the initial survey showed that the poppy cultivation in Nangarhar had fallen “significantly” this year as security situation improved in some areas.
After southern Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, Nangarhar with 17,177 hectares of poppy fields was the fourth leading opium cultivating province last year.
In 2018, authorities could only destroy 406 hectares of poppy fields in four out of the 24 Afghan provinces where poppy were cultivated; some 301 hectares were destroyed just in Nangarhar.
Nangarhar is one of the 24 volatile Afghan provinces where farmers grow poppy, particularly in areas where the government has less control or areas that are completely under the Taliban control.
Among the 34 Afghan provinces, only 10 were declared poppy free in 2018.
The Afghan government this year has already finalized the poppy eradication strategy, which is now in the implementation phase, a counter narcotics official told EFE on conditions of anonymity.
The official said that the government would “eradicate as much poppy as possible.”
“This year, we have started the campaign even in provinces where eradication was not carried out last year. We can mention (about) Helmand,” he said, referring to the volatile southwestern province where 52 percent of nationwide poppy cultivation was carried out in 2018.
“Eradication is a type of warning for farmers,” he added.
In 2018, the total opium poppy cultivation area in Afghanistan was estimated at 263,000 hectares, a 20 percent decrease as compared to 2017, mainly due to a drought and low prices of opium in the market.
But it was still the second highest since 1994, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey in 2018, conducted by the government and the UNODC.
The potential production of opium dropped by 29 percent from 9,000 metric tons in 2017 to 6,400 metric in 2018 due to decrease in cultivation and opium yield per hectare, according to the survey.