NEW YORK (CBS News) – The cultivation of opium in Afghanistan jumped 32% in 2022 despite the Taliban ruling administration’s ban on narcotics, according to an annual report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“The 2022 opium harvest in Afghanistan is the most profitable in years with crop up by a third and prices soaring even as the country is plagued by cascading humanitarian and economic crises,” said the UNODC report released on Tuesday.
This year, farmers have grown opium on around 576,000 acres of land, up from an estimated 437,000 acres in 2021, making it the third-largest cultivation year since 1994, when UNODC monitoring began for the first time. Only 2017 and 2018 saw more Afghan soil being used to grow opium poppy.
Afghanistan has a long history of growing opium, a drug in its own right that is also the key ingredient in a variety of other highly addictive narcotics, from heroin to a range of opioid painkillers.
The country remained the leading producer of the lucrative drug during the U.S.-led invasion. Southern Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban where thousands of American soldiers were based during the two-decade occupation of the country, has been considered the hub of opium cultivation since 2001.
“Cultivation continued to be concentrated in the southwestern regions of the country, which accounted for 73% of the total area and saw the greatest increase in harvests,” the UN report said, noting that around 80 % of the total world opium harvest comes from Afghanistan.
After the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the group’s reclusive leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued an edict banning the cultivation of all drugs, including opium poppy, across the country.
“If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be immediately destroyed and the violator will be dealt with according to Sharia,” Akhundzada warned.
But despite his decree, the Taliban reportedly turned a blind eye and allowed farmers to continue growing their opium crops.