Drug Warriors Cross Their Fingers and Hope for Bad Weather in Afghanistan

This week the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the amount of land devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan this year will be about the same as last year. Still, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said, "there is a good chance that Afghanistan will produce less opium this year," thanks to the hard work and persistence of government officials who for years have been eradicating poppies and encouraging farmers to switch crops. Just kidding. Costa actually is counting on bad weather:

Bad weather during the current growing season may reduce the productivity of the crop this year and thus volume (tons) of opium produced in the country. This would continue the decline that has seen production fall from a massive 8,200 tons in 2007 to 6,900 tons last year.

If you're thinking that 6,900 tons still sounds pretty massive, you're right. It is, for example, 3,600 percent higher than Afghan opium production at the time of the American invasion in 2001. More to the point, it is substantially higher than annual worldwide consumption of illicit opium (mostly in the form of heroin), which is believed to be about 5,000 tons. Another 10 percent drop in production like the one seen between 2008 and 2009 would still leave plenty of opium to satisfy the demand, even leaving aside the surpluses stockpiled in past years. Yet Costa is upbeat:

I urge the Afghan government and the international community to focus special attention on the eight provinces where opium cultivation is negligible, though not poppy-free. With appropriate local community-inspired measures—such as shura-driven campaigns, governor-led eradication and development assistance— three quarters of the country (25 out of 34 provinces) could become poppy-free in the near future.

It's hard to know which is more absurd: the idea that the utterly corrupt Afghan goverment would do anything to seriously interfere with the illegal drug trade that enriches its officials, or the notion that eliminating "negligible" poppy cultivation in those particular provinces would have any meaningful effect. It is easy to forget, while examining the U.N.'s tables and maps showing poppy cultivation by province, that the ultimate goal of the anti-opium campaign is to stop people from using heroin. There is no sign that it has been effective at doing so. Even if drug warriors somehow managed to turn the entire map of Afghanistan a "poppy- free" green, opium would be grown elsewhere as long as people wanted it.

Basic economics renders the whole enterprise not only futile but self-defeating. The UNODC considers it a promising sign when the price of opium drops relative to those of other crops, because it means farmers are less likely to grow poppies. But unless demand is dropping (which it isn't), falling opium prices show that drug warriors have failed to reduce supply. And if they should have any short-term success on that score, the result will be higher prices, which will lure farmers back to poppies again. Yet Costa, despite his training in economics, always acts as if success is just around the corner.

The full text of the U.N. report is here (PDF). Previous coverage of the ever-failing war against Afghan opium here.

[via the Drug War Chronicle]

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  • Xeones||

    Say, where is anonymity bot?

  • ||

    Ha, pass me a leg man.

  • ||

    "It is, for example, 3,600 percent higher than Afghan opium production at the time of the American invasion in 2001."

    Wonder if that explains the flood -- deluge -- of good, cheap heroin in this area over the last few years.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Appears from earlier threads that it has been vanquished. The Art P.O.G. is going to be devistated.

  • cmace||

    Wow, this actually makes pretty good sense to me dude!

    Sammy
    www.private-parts.tc

  • ||

    Some more horror stories about the drug war and the hot war in Afghanistan have been tossed over my electronic transom. For example, Paul Craig Roberts now declares the US to be, well-and-truly, a police state.

    Enough of this crap, already. We must end the two wars now. Leave no incumbent standing in November. Replace them all not with new faces from the same party (made possible because of so many convenient "retirements" this year), or with the opponents from the other major party, but with independents and third-party candidates who seem able to read, understand, and honor the Constitution. As we saw most recently in Massachusetts, only electoral defeat gets through to the two-faced ruling monoparty. Denying BOTH of them power for a few election cycles -- perhaps clearing the way for the ascendancy of a third-party with long-term viability (whether the Libertarians or someone else) -- is the only effective way I can see to bring these pols into line and re-establish the people as boss. Do we have the will to do this? We keep challenging our politicians to be "statesmen." But if we can't ourselves try a statesmanlike strategy in our electoral behavior, how can we credibly expect our public servants to exceed our own level of integrity and wisdom? That is to say, lack of integrity and no small amount of stupidity...

  • ||

    "..two-faced ruling monoparty.."

    +1

  • PIRS||

    I still like the idea someone had about having it purchased for medical purposes. That would be a win-win situation. These people in Afghanistan just want to have a job so they can support thier families. I do not think that is too much to ask.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Screw the medicinal part of this. Why not just buy it so that we don't have to fight in that country?

    How much cheaper would it be to simply buy the crop than fight over that country?

    If you can find a use for it, fine. If not who gives a shit. This article says that the farmers are getting $1Billion a year from poppies.

    That's walking around money in Washington DC. Spend $2B and see them get cracking.

  • PIRS||

    I would agree that paying the farmers for their crops would be better than killing people.

    Or, like we do with American Farmers, we could pay them to NOT plant their crops.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Make them plant it. Even if you paid them not to plant it, they would. Then they'd sell the phantom crop to the Taliban and you'd be in the same spot you are currently in.

    Besides, we should stop paying our farmers to not grow crops. We don't need to spread that sort of nonsense.

  • Zeb||

    There is a morphine shortage in some poorer parts of the world. The medical angle helps with PR against the idiots who will say that buying the crop is just surrendering to the drug traffickers, or some such.

  • SIV||

    There is a morphine shortage because the UN, WHO, and their local government won't let people have it no matter how sick and in pain they are. Can't have any new addicts no matter how painful there lingering death.

  • 111th Congress||

    We know people don't want us to legalize opium, but once we do, the people will then get a chance to see that opium is good thing and really really like it.

  • Rimfax||

    What percentage of the opium harvest ends up getting interdicted? Anyone got any numbers on that?

  • Eryk Boston||

    The war on drugs has given Mr. Costa a high paying job. To him, that is success.

    Why do we still pretend that the War on Drugs is about drugs?

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    Why do we still pretend that the War on Drugs is about drugs?

    "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time and those are pretty good odds" -- Maverick's Pappy

    ... Hobbit

  • ||

    Shorter Sullum:
    There's never been a better time to start using smack.

  • ||

    Dude it looks like everyone is getting hit with crazy weather. Whats up with that??

    Jess
    www.isp-logging.net.tc

  • In Time Of War||

    Y'know, we should call "bullshit" and make this the drug war's last stand. They have the might of the US military in Afghanistan. If they can't stop drug production there, they can't stop it anywhere. Period.
    And it looks like they're failing rather dramatically.

  • Juanita Wayback Machine||

    Juanita|12.3.08 @ 4:21PM|#
    Just because something isn't always completely effective doesn't mean we shouldn't continue. Drugs are wrong, the war is the right thing to do, in order to help keep people of drugs.

  • ||

    Insanity is doing the same thing over nad over again and expecting different results...that whatthey say in NA and AA meetings.

  • Juanita Wayback Machine||

    Juanita|1.12.10 @ 2:46PM|#
    This is stupid, it will lead to children being able to get the drug. The DEA needs to round thes politicians up for some good old fashioned SEVERE punishment.

  • GILMORE||

    Neither here nor there, but...

    3,600 percent higher

    Isnt it clearer to simply say, "36 times higher"? Grew by a factor of 36? I guess I'm nitpicking. Maybe the Bedford Handbook has something to say about this.

  • Jon Caulkins||

    The increase in cultivation now vs. pre-invasion is only huge (the 3600% figure) if one takes as the base year 2001, the year of the Taliban opium ban. Throughout most of the Taliban regime's time, the Taliban did not enforce a ban on production. Afghan production increased more or less linearly from 1986 through 2005, with the exception of the 2001 ban (which may at least in part have been a response to excess inventory). Production from 2005 - 2008 increased faster, with the deterioration in the security situation. So in last few years production has been roughly double the average of the Taliban era, excluding the unusual year of 2001. The 3600% figure is technically correct, but gives the wrong overall impression.

    I personally think eradicating poppies in provinces that are mostly poppy-free is exactly the right policy. Eradication is worse than futile in the insurgent dominated southern regions that have extensive poppy cultivation. Such cultivation is easily replaced, and the eradication increases support among the population for the Taliban. In contrast, in the ~20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces that are poppy free or almost poppy-free, it would take very little eradication to preserve their poppy-free status, and keeping the cultivation from returning to those areas seems like a sensible step in trying to allow that roughly two-thirds of the country to enjoy something closer to normalcy.

    Aside: It's not at all clear that the ultimate objective of anti-opium campaigns is to stop people from using. It is at least equally about winning "hearts and minds" as part of a counter-insurgency campaign. The heroin industry generates substantial income for insurgents, corruption that undermines Afghan faith in its government, and rates of heroin dependence in Afghanistan that are truly astonishing. So the counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency missions intersect, but it's not as if we invaded Afghanistan to advance drug-related objectives.

  • Sean Healy||

    Why don't we pay them to grow it AND distribute it in China.

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