At Least One Thing in Afghanistan Is Improving: Opium Productivity


Although acreage devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan supposedly has been reduced by one-fifth, production remains virtually unchanged, and the country is still estimated to supply 87 percent of the world's heroin. (As Toby Muse reported in the June issue of Reason, something similar is happening in Colombia, where a crackdown on coca cultivation seems to have spurred improvements in productivity.) But Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, still thinks opium can be eradicated from Afghanistan…in about 20 years.

Implausible as that projection is, Costa is a realist compared to his predecessor, Pino Arlacchi. "Global coca leaf and opium poppy acreage totals an area less than half the size of Puerto Rico," Arlacchi said in 1998. "There is no reason it cannot be eliminated in little more than a decade."